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Nicholas V. Caputo served as the Essex County Clerk from 1961 to 1991

The Man with the Golden Arm

1 in 50 Billion Odds

By David Wildstein, August 13 2018 12:10 am


Nicholas V. Caputo
was the Man with the Golden Arm.

As the Essex County Clerk from 1961 to 1991, Caputo was legendary for drawing Line A for the Essex County Democratic organization in every primary and in every general, except for once.  The odds of that happening were calculated at 1 in 50 billion.

34 years ago today, I attended the drawing at the County Clerk’s office in Newark and watched Caputo, standing behind a glass window, place his hand in a jury box and pick out a capsule. I watched him open the capsule and remove a tiny piece of paper from it.  I watched him unroll the paper and saw the typewritten word “Democrat” on it.

My suspicion was that he froze one of the capsules – or perhaps placed an indentation on it with his fingernail. Frankly, there were a lot of theories.  I still don’t know how he did it.

Republicans sued Caputo, claiming that it was mathematically impossible for him to draw Line A for the Democrats with such regularity; I was one of the plaintiffs.  The case eventually made its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Justice Robert Clifford, in a 6-0 decision, wrote that “despite the County Clerk’s apparent compliance with the statute in this instance, one cannot help being struck by the marvel, the otherworldly coincidence, of one party “winning” the drawing forty out of forty-one times. That the record supports this numerical result is not open to question. Nor is it open to any doubt whatsoever that assuming a fair and random selection of one item out of a possibility of two, the odds on drawing line A forty times out of forty-one draws are about one in fifty billion. Get that? ONE in FIFTY BILLION!”

After he won his sixth and final term in 1985, Caputo began letting his Deputy County Clerk, Pat Drake, draw the ballots.  Democrats got Line A when she drew too.

I still don’t know how she did it.

Mochary v Caputo

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