by Ronald Gordon Ziegler
There has been a popular myth in this country since 1960 that Kennedy won the popular vote by a slim margin. I have remembered and repeatedly made the case that this is not what happened, even in this journal, but the references do not show what happened. They repeat the myth. Even CQ seems to have changed its vote reporting for 1960 to reflect the myth over the years. It may be a mute point, but it is an oft repeated diatribe, as for example, in 2000 when it was professed that Al Gore was the first candidate in ages to have won the popular vote and lost the election. Whatever problems that may present with reality, Wikipedia on August 24, 2006 still has the story straight, although one wonders how long that will remain the case:

Alabama popular vote

The actual number of popular votes received by Kennedy is difficult to determine because of the unusual situation in Alabama. The first, minor issue is that, instead of having the voters choose from slates of electors, the Alabama ballot had voters choose the electors individually. Traditionally, in such a situation, a given candidate is assigned the popular vote of the elector who received the most votes. For instance, candidates pledged to Nixon received anywhere from 230,951 votes (for George Witcher) to 237,981 votes (for Cecil Durham); Nixon is therefore assigned 237,981 popular votes from Alabama.

The more important issue is that the statewide Democratic primary had chosen eleven candidates for the Electoral College, five of whom were pledged to vote for Kennedy, and six of whom were free to vote for anyone they chose. All of these candidates won, and the six unpledged electors voted against Kennedy. The actual number of popular votes received by Kennedy is therefore difficult to allocate. Traditionally, Kennedy is assigned either 318,303 votes (the votes won by the most popular Kennedy elector) or 324,050 votes (the votes won by the most popular Democratic elector); indeed, the results table below is based on Kennedy winning 318,303 votes in Alabama. However, if any reasonable attempt is made to allocate the popular vote between Kennedy electors and unpledged electors, a plurality of the popular vote goes to Nixon instead of Kennedy. For instance, if the 324,050 votes mentioned above were split 5 for Kennedy to 6 for unpledged electors, Kennedy would receive 147,295 votes in Alabama for a national popular vote of 34,049,976. In such a scenario, the unpledged Democratic electors would receive 463,113 popular votes: 286,359 from Mississippi and 176,754 from Alabama.[3]

Unpledged Democratic electors

Fourteen unpledged Democratic electors won election from the voters. Because electors pledged to Kennedy had won a clear majority of the Electoral College, the unpledged electors could not influence the results. Nonetheless, they refused to vote for Kennedy. Instead they voted for Virginia Senator Harry F. Byrd, even though Byrd was not an announced candidate and did not seek their votes.

Presidential Candidate Party Home State Popular Vote Electoral Vote Running Mate Running Mate's
Home State
Running Mate's
Electoral Vote
Count Percentage
John Fitzgerald Kennedy Democratic Massachusetts 34,220,984(a) 49.9% 303 Lyndon Baines Johnson Texas 303
Richard Milhous Nixon Republican California 34,108,157 49.6% 219 Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Massachusetts 219
Harry Flood Byrd (none) Virginia (b) (b) 15 James Strom Thurmond South Carolina 14
Barry Morris Goldwater(c) Arizona 1(c)
(unpledged electors) Democratic (n/a) 286,359 0.4% (d) (n/a) (n/a) (d)
Other 216,982 0.3% 0 Other 0
Total 68,832,482 100.0% 537 Total 537
Needed to win 269 Needed to win 269

Source (Popular Vote): Leip, David. 1960 Presidential Election Results. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections (August 2, 2005).

Source (Electoral Vote): Electoral College Box Scores 1789–1996. Official website of the National Archives. (August 2, 2005).

(a) This figure is problematic; see Alabama popular vote above.
(b) Byrd was not directly on the ballot. Instead, his electoral votes came from unpledged Democratic electors and a faithless elector.



Thus, if JFK's national vote total of 34,220,984 has the indicated "147,295 votes in Alabama for a national popular vote of 34,049,976" instead of what is always given him, then Nixon's 34,108,157 gives him a popular plurality. As it is, these votes seem to be counted twice, once for the unpledged slates at least, and for Kennedy.

The political game played with the electoral vote cannot be contested as easily, but there are serious issues with the popular vote in Illinois, Texas, and Hawaii that cast a shadow on the idea of a Kennedy victory, but that is an old saw.

One can accept the reality of the fraud perpetrated without having sympathy with the cause of Faubus or Byrd who should have probably gotten Alabama's electoral votes in 1960, and recognition must be given to the fact that a significant segment of the Alabama electorate - black voters - could not and did not participate in the vote. Black voters might well have voted overwhelmingly for even a Kennedy promising the state party he would appoint segregationist judges if elected.

What needs to be addressed is the reality of the popular vote. Not so much because it can change anything, but in part because of the frequent reference to JFK's narrow popular victory. Popular votes are irrelevant, of course. No one, for instance, adds up votes for the House across the country and asks why there may be a disparity between the total popular vote and the partisan breakdown of the subsequent House.

There is a greater issue at stake here: complicity in the charade. It is not alleged that there is a conspiracy, but all of us have been handed a bill of goods for half a century, and accepted it without question.