By Gerry Fischer
Meade County is the best kept secret in Kentucky. The people here stand up for their families, friends and churches. They are kind and generous, but firm and resolute. Most of the county affiliates with the Democrat Party with almost 57% of registered voters, while about 36% are registered as Republican. Today things are different around campaigns and voting. The parties have now reversed. Going back to the Civil War, the first Republican President was Abraham Lincoln, a “liberal,” known for freeing the slaves with the emancipation proclamation. The Democrat party members were the conservatives wanting to maintain the status quo. A war was fought between these opposing political views, and after the war the term the “Solid South” was coined to denote a Democrat voting-block. Midway between WW II and the Civil War, the Great Depression,” hit and the Democrat party became more liberal and socialistic, exampled by programs like SSI, TVA, CCC, WPA and other government programs. After WW II the political parties changed philosophies and the more conservative Democrats began to vote Republican or changed over, while the more liberal republicans did the opposite. The solid south became Republican.
Election day was an old-time social event, almost a party. Before laws were passed against it, the bars were open and the “bootleggers,” traded whiskey for votes, and that was the only time when the bootleggers and the churches were on the same side. They both voted to keep the counties “dry. The bootleggers wanted to be the only places to buy alcohol, and the churches agreed, for more noble reasons. Of course, mixing men and whiskey with opposing political beliefs, often led to fist fights, knifings and shootings. Almost every election resulted in a gunfight or knifing resulting in someone’s injury or death. Voter fraud existed back then, and depending on the honesty of officials, the amount of dead folks voting rose or fell. This leads me to a story Ron Bevers told me. Traveling Kentucky for the Kentucky Farm Bureau, he learned this South-central Kentucky story in Metcalf County.
The seat of government at that time was situated on one side of a ridge in the county. The county was strongly Democrat and very conservative, while the opposite side of the ridge held the little Republican enclave. At 6:00 p.m. the polls closed, and the ballot boxes delivered to the county court clerk. The clerk stood behind two men counting the ballots. The first ballot was lifted out and placed on the table. He announced, Democrat, pulled another out and said, Democrat, yet another, Democrat, then Democrat, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat…and then he announced Republican. The men quietened looking at each other in bewilderment. It sat in another spot. Then the counting resumed, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat…then, Republican. The clerk said, “Give me those two ballots,” and tore them up. He said, “they don’t count, that man voted twice!”
My friend Sherrill Williams introduced me to his cousin Glenn Braden who relocated from Larue County, Kentucky to San Diego, California in1962. His Great-uncle Gore Braden had been active in local politics for years, but died in 1956, six years before Glen moved. In 1962, before leaving for California Glenn voted in his last Kentucky election, and discovered his Great-uncle Gore was apparently still involved with local politics, because as Glenn wrote his name to vote he found his Uncle who died six years earlier had voted just before him. There is no doubt that his uncle was a die-hard Democrat.
We have a Meade County ballot box in the museum. It has three locks, one for the County Clerk and one each for the Democrat and Republican parties, with a slot in which to drop your vote. It is made of strong metal, heavy for its size, but the best thing about it, is the only way a Russian could “hack it,” is with an axe. I conclude with the famous words of former Chicago Mayor, Richard Joseph Daley, “On election day, vote early and vote often.” Meanwhile, me, Fran and Uncle Gore Braden will see you at the polls!