You know how I’m that tiresome dork who cares about voting systems? Let me tell you about a time when voting in the United States was even worse.

Right now most countries – mostly! – recognise the value of casting secret ballots. That is, you need to make it so everyone who wants to vote can put their decision down, commit to it, and put it somewhere nobody else can see it, anonymised from who they are. You control the ballot carefully and make sure people can only vote once.

That’s not how it used to work, though. Used to be back in the day, the idea was that you should be able to convince people, change their minds at the polls. There’s the echoes of this system as it remains now, in state Caucuses, where people just holler at one another and the judge kinda guesstimates how many people are in each section of the room. This system is really silly and best represents a population where maybe twenty people can caucus, rather than the hundreds of thousands of people modern caucuses are meant to represent.

Anyway, the history of New York is a gosh-dang mess, and one of the things that used to happen, back during the heavily nativist times of the Know-Nothings, was a process called cooping. There are a lot of things going on here – like, the gangs of fixers known as the Plug-Uglies, and the flag with a shoemaker’s awl on it, and the racist American Native Party – but that’s not so important. The important thing is there were vulnerable people who could vote (Irish and Chinese immigrants), who weren’t going to get listened to by the cops, and unscrupulous people who would abuse them.

Cooping, the technique, starts when you kidnap someone and stuff them in a chicken coop!


Groups – known as Coop Gangs or Election Gangs – hung around polling places, looking for people who they could abuse, who they would grab, stuff in coops, then get them drunk and torture them, by beating or kicking the coop, or setting their hair on fire. The point is, you got them scared and you got them drunk. Then you sent them in to the electoral place to vote, as you demanded, and you could watch how they voted, and beat them up if they voted wrong.

And then, you could dress them up, put them in a wig, and send them to vote again.

And then you could put them in a different outfit, and send them to vote again.

Now, the thing that’s really sad about this is what solved Cooping wasn’t anyone going ‘hey, abusing poor people is bad,’ but rather, ‘hey, these are impacting elections based on which rich person can hire the biggest gang.’ And the solution was secret ballots.

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