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Liberia's 1927 Presidential Election: The Most Rigged Election Ever (With A 1,680% Turnout)

1920s | September 21, 2020

The flag of Liberia. (Government of Liberia/Wikimedia Commons)

In the minds of many, "politics" and "corruption" are synonymous, and they can cite plenty of evidence for the connection. From hanging chads to collusion to stuffing the ballot box, certain figures in worldwide politics have, from time to time, believed it was better to tinker with election results than let the voices of the people be heard. They all pale in comparison, however, Liberia's 1927 presidential election, which earned the distinction of a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most corrupt and fraudulent election in history.

Residence of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, first President of Liberia, between 1848 and 1852. (T. Williams/Wikimedia Commons)

The History Of Liberia

Africa's first modern republic, the Republic of Liberia, was founded in 1847 as a haven for former American slaves. Nestled between Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, and Guinea, Liberia is not a large country. Geographically, it is only about 43,000 square miles. Like the United States, Liberia is led by a president who is elected by the people in a popular election. You know, in theory.

Charles D.B. King in 1919. (Harris & Ewing/Wikimedia Commons)

Liberia's 1927 Presidential Election

The 1927 presidential election of Liberia pitted the incumbent Charles D. B. King, a member of the True Whig Party running for a third term, against Thomas J. Faulkner, representing the People's Party. King, who had previously served as the country's attorney general and secretary of state, was first elected to the presidency in 1919.

Having been elected twice before, you'd think King would have been more confident in his chances, but something about Faulkner's 1927 campaign had him worried. Maybe it was the effectiveness with which Faulkner pointed out to the people how often King's actions were detrimental to his own policies. Whatever the case, it appeared to voters that the race would be a heated one, but they had no idea just how ridiculous it was about to get.

Charles D. B. King with his entourage on the steps of the Peace Palace, The Hague, Netherlands, September 29, 1927. (C.G. Leeflang/Wikimedia Commons)

The Voters Of Liberia

It's worth noting that the pool of voters in Liberia was unusually small. In 1927, women hadn't yet been granted the right to vote, so only adult men were eligible to vote in that year's election. By the time election day rolled around, only 15,000 Liberians were registered to vote, which makes the results of the election particularly shocking.

Once the votes were tallied, King was declared the winner, having defeated Faulkner by a hefty margin. As a twice-elected incumbent, that wouldn't have been terribly surprising had it not been for just how wide that margin was. According to the official numbers, Faulkner had earned about 9,000 votes—not a bad turnout for the underdog and, notably, far more than half of all Liberian registered voters, let alone those who actually voted.

So how did King win? Well, he somehow got around 243,000 votes. It seems that the country achieved a 1,680% voter turnout in 1927, truly an inspiration for those Rock the Vote activists to hold up with reverence. It's unlikely, however, that some wizardry suddenly increased the Liberian voter pool by an order of magnitude overnight, so it didn't take long to figure out that the election results had been rigged. 

Coat of arms of Liberia. (FXXX/Wikimedia Commons)

The Fall Of King

Despite the obvious ballot tampering, Charles D.B. King went on to a third term of the presidency without much of a fuss, but Faulkner didn't shrink away from the political limelight after the fraudulent election. There might not have been much he could do about the election, but fortunately, officials willing to steal an election usually have other shady stuff going on as well. Shortly thereafter, he accused some of the top members of King's True Whig Party of using slave labor in their own homes and selling slaves to a Spanish colony.

At first, King's administration refused to investigate Faulkner's claims and tried to sweep the entire scandal under the rug, but the League of Nations wasn't having it. They formed a committee to look into the allegations, and while they couldn't find concrete evidence of any of the True Whigs selling slaves, it was abundantly clear that several True Whig leaders—including President King and his vice president, Allen Yancy—profited from forced labor in their own homes. In 1930, impeachment proceedings were brought against King, but he resigned before they could take him down. Let this be a lesson to any politically minded readers out there: Those who live in glass houses shouldn't blatantly steal elections.

Tags: 1920s | Africa | politics

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.