The charge being weighed by a Manhattan jury in the case of the Republican campaign consultant John Haggerty Jr. is whether he took $1.1 million of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s money to guard against election fraud, and then spent most of it on a house instead.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg leaving the voting booth in November 2005. Both Bloomberg and Rudolph W. Giuliani faced criticism over their stationing of off-duty law enforcement officers at polling sites. But another question, unlikely to be resolved at Mr. Haggerty’s criminal trial, is why the mayor felt compelled to spend what most people consider a sweet fortune on campaign surveillance in the first place.
On the witness stand Monday, Mr. Bloomberg defended such operations as standard practice. “It’s traditional, I’m told, to provide ballot security,” he testified. “The security is a process to make sure that people that want to vote have the right to vote and don’t get pushed aside or denied the access to vote.”
But as traditions go, the practice of ballot security has been mainly a Republican ritual. And, historically, it has often been focused more on scrutinizing voters than enabling them.
Its origins are in Richard M. Nixon’s loss to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election, when thousands of Democratic ballots were said to have been cast in the names of deceased Chicago voters. The extent of fraud in that election has long been debated, but the perception of scheming by Democrats took hold.
“Republicans became convinced they were in danger of having elections stolen,” said Chandler Davidson, professor emeritus at Rice University and the co-author of a 2004 study on ballot security practices.
Even the term ballot security can be a bit misleading, some experts said.
“A less kind way of describing it,” Dr. Davidson said, “is that it was a way to cut down on the vote of the opposition.”
Jerry Koenig, who served as chief of staff to the Elections Law Committee in the Democratic-controlled State Assembly for 20 years, agreed. “It’s just a euphemism for voter suppression,” he said.