In chapter 13 of The Pickwick Papers Dickens describes an election for the House of Commons in the borough of Eatanswill. There are two parties – the Buffs and the Blues. The two candidates, Slumkey (Blue) and Fizkin (Buff), have only one concern – getting elected. They and their supporters will resort to any chicanery that might help their cause.
The two parties have positions that are essentially defined by their opponents. Whatever the Buffs are for the Blues are against and vice versa. There are two newspapers in town, one devoted to the Buffs the other to the Blues. If there are serious issues that need resolution by the electorate, they are never mentioned.
The election described by Dickens takes place in 1828. Despite all the chicanery, some of which is described below, there no fatalities. An earlier election had at least one death. One party hired a bunch of ringers from London. The other bribed the driver of the wagon bringing the phoney voters to dump them in a canal, one drowned. The others got out of the water, but apparently never made it to Eatanswill to cast a ballot.
The various election strategies include plying the opposition voters with liquor laced with laudanum until they’re completely immobilized and hence unable to cast a ballot. Spirits flow so freely that even on election day insensate voters litter the town square like discarded election fliers. Women, they couldn’t vote back then, were given green parasols to encourage their male relations to vote for the gift givers. Voters were sequestered by the hundreds ready to be turned loose at the polls at the critical time. Baby kissing was encouraged until it became universal.
When one candidate gave his election day speech the opposition band played so loud that he could not be heard. Both promised immediate bliss and tranquility when elected. But before the ballot, the voters were a mob that jostled, punched, and writhed like a sack of cats about to be tossed into a lake.
There is one thing the two parties agreed on and that is the nobility, wisdom, and rectitude of the raucous and nincompoop voters. Said voters were so closely divided that the election was decided by a small handful who were not allied with either party. These undecided would today be called independent voters. They were taken aside by the Blue campaign manager and bribed. Hence Slumkey emerged as the people’s choice and was on his way to the House of Commons.
So two centuries on has electioneering changed or progressed? The reader can compare then and now and decide.