Sixty years ago on Nov. 8, John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States. The Democrat went up against then-Vice President Richard Nixon and the outcome, to this day, is still debated by historians. Some still say it was “stolen fair and square” by ballot box stuffing in key states.
In the Electoral College, Kennedy won 303 to 219. But in the popular vote, with 69 million votes counted, Kennedy only had a 113,000 lead — a margin of .2 percent. In the end, it came down to 49.7 percent for Kennedy, and 49.6 percent for Nixon — a razor-thin win.
The drama had centered on Illinois and Texas. Texas, home of vice presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson, chose the Kennedy-Johnson ticket by a 46,000 vote margin. In Illinois, Kennedy won by just 9,000 votes.
Those two states, had Nixon won them, would have been enough to defeat Kennedy in the Electoral College by two votes.
Corruption was widespread in Illinois elections. In Chicago, many to this day believe Mayor Richard “The Boss” Daley and his union operators stuffed the ballot boxes of Cook County. Downstate, Democrats accused Republicans of the same voter fraud.
In Texas, Johnson was already well-rehearsed in election rigging in his Senate races all the way back to 1948, although coming up with 46,000 fraudulent votes statewide would be quite a feat in 1960.
On Nov. 9, 1960, Nixon officially conceded the election. Kennedy declared victory, and the transition of power began.
The Republican Party pursued recounts in 11 states, but soon abandoned the effort after losing in court. The brand new State of Hawaii flipped during those recounts from Nixon to Kennedy. California, which was forecasted for a Kennedy win, went to Nixon after all the absentee ballots were counted.
Nixon did not encourage Republicans to regard the election as stolen, although he was known to tell friends privately, that “We won, but it was stolen from us.” Also privately, he encouraged his key surrogates to pursue recounts.
In public, Nixon said, “Our country cannot afford the agony of a constitutional crisis.” Too much time has passed for historians to know with certain if he was right about it being stolen, but within three years, Johnson would become president after Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas while riding in a motorcade.