Steve Cottrell: Nevada County’s election scandal, over 100 years ago, #Steve #Cottrell #Nevada #Countys #election #scandal #years Welcome to O L A S M E D I A TV N E W S, This is what we have for you today:
Rigged election? Yes. Fraudulent ballots? Absolutely. Biden versus Trump 2020? No, Nevada County 1888.
On Nov. 6, 1888, incumbent Nevada County Sheriff George Lord was defeated by barber George Dunster — the Truckee man’s name having been put on the ballot to make sure Democrats had a slate of candidates for all offices.
Lord was so confident of winning he didn’t bother to campaign, but when the ballots were tallied, Dunster had 2,120 votes and Sheriff Lord only 2,040. When Lord claimed fraud and demanded a recount, it was understandable; he was a popular sheriff, seeking his third term, and Dunster, although popular in Truckee, was relatively unknown west of Donner Summit. How could Dunster have possibly won?
Lord’s first witness at the recount was Paul Morateur, inspector of elections at Boston Ravine, just south of Grass Valley, who was called to identify the ballot envelope from his precinct. When the envelope was handed to Morateur, he examined it and confirmed it was the same envelope he delivered to the county clerk on election night. The envelope noted that Dunster had received 175 votes, Lord 140, and it was certified by the Boston Ravine Election Board. Morateur also confirmed that his wax seals were unbroken.
The Nevada County Courthouse as it appeared in 1888-89, when the election of Truckee barber George Dunster to be sheriff was contested by two-term incumbent George Lord.
Courtesy Searls Historical Library
When the envelope was opened, however, and the recount showed Lord with 180 votes and Dunster 135, the election official asked permission to return to the witness stand to take another look at the ballot envelope. And that’s when things got interesting. Very interesting.
Upon closer examination, Morateur noticed that the wax seals, although unbroken, were not the seals he had affixed to the envelope. He had used the tip of a Stafford ink stopper to emboss the wax, and the seals on the envelope did not include the distinctive Stafford design. Also puzzling was the fact that the recount totals occurred because Dunster’s name had been scratched out on more than three dozen ballots and Lord’s name substituted.
When the countywide recount was complete, including a handful of ballots not previously tallied, Lord’s vote total had increased from 2,040 to 2,185, while Dunster’s dropped from 2,120 to 1,980 — with the Boston Ravine ballots showing the biggest swing.
On Dec. 31, Superior Court Judge Julius Walling, who openly supported fellow Republican George Lord and stumped for him during the campaign, declared the incumbent sheriff winner and said if any fraud occurred, it must have have happened at Boston Ravine. There was no proof, he explained, that Lord had altered the ballots himself.
That may have satisfied the requirements of a court-conducted recount, but it left nagging questions that Republicans and Democrats alike wanted answered, as did the Boston Ravine election officials who were being blamed for lax security or, worse yet, altering ballots.
SHERIFF LORD INDICTED
Following a six-week investigation by the grand jury, Lord was indicted for tampering with the ballots and Boston Ravine election officials were fully exonerated, which led to the most bizarre election fraud case ever heard in a Nevada County courtroom.
A key witness was courthouse janitor Hugh McCauley, who testified that two weeks after the election Lord came to the courthouse at night, sent his deputy sheriff home, and said he would stand the overnight watch at the jail.
McCauley said the next morning, when he went in the room Lord had occupied, he found a chair splattered with spots of red sealing wax, and noticed several drops of red wax on the office desk as well as drops in the wastebasket and on the office floor. And, it was noted, the room was adjacent to the County Clerk’s Office, where the ballots were secured.
Another witness testified that Lord had keys to the County Clerk’s Office and access to the sealed ballots. In addition, a handwriting expert from San Francisco told the jury that in every instance where Dunster’s name had been scratched out and Lord’s name substituted, the handwriting was, in his professional opinion, that of the sheriff.
Despite the damaging, slam-dunk testimony, Lord was acquitted. But on the same day he was acquitted, an earlier appeal by Dunster to the state Supreme Court regarding a ruling by Walling during the recount was affirmed and a new trial ordered. Lord, apparently satisfied with the acquittal and concerned by what might happen at a new trial, conceded to Dunster and handed him the jail keys, ledger books and badge. And that was that — no new trial.
The 1888 election took more than eight months to litigate, but no one went to jail. Dunster served four years as sheriff then opened a barbershop on Commercial Street in Nevada City, while Lord eventually became a stable owner in the Bay Area.
Historian Steve Cottrell, a former Nevada City Council member and mayor, can be contacted at [email protected]
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