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Black Leaders Slam ''Illegitimate'' Bush Presidency
Published on Thursday, January 4, 2001 by the InterPress Service
Black Leaders Slam 'Illegitimate' Bush Presidency
by Katherine Stapp
NEW YORK - A group of prominent African-Americans has challenged the electoral victory of Republican President-elect George W. Bush after a ballot exercise marked by numerous charges of selective disenfranchisement of black voters.

Denouncing what they described as ''massive voting irregularities'' in the November polls, eight prominent black leaders have vowed to aggressively contest two of Bush's cabinet nominations, to protest his inauguration on Jan. 20, and to pursue comprehensive electoral reform in the courts and in Congress.

A ''national emergency summit'' was announced for Thursday at Howard University in Washington, which will involve the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, the Nation of Islam, the National Urban League, and other leading African American groups.

''The Center for Constitutional Rights is committed to opposing the legitimacy of this regime, which was born of the disenfranchisement of millions of people in this country,'' said Ron Daniels, the Center's executive director, who organised a panel Tuesday at a forum titled 'From Protest to Democracy' in Washington DC.

''It is our duty to resist,'' said Daniels, calling for a broad- based protest on Jan. 20 - the date of President-elect Bush's inauguration - at ''the scene of the crime, the Supreme Court of the United States''.

Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network is also organising a ''shadow inauguration'', said the march would not solve the problem, but it would ''dramatically show the world that we're not suffering from amnesia''.

''Some say that it's over, that it's time to move on,'' he said, adding, ''It's not over.''

At Tuesday's event at the National Press Club, panellists cited mounting evidence that large numbers of African Americans had their ballots thrown out because of confusing instructions and faulty voting equipment - or were discouraged from voting at all.

In Florida, nearly 10,000 ballots cast by heavily Democratic- leaning black voters were disqualified. These spoiled ballots had a crucial impact on the election since Bush won Florida by a mere 537 votes, and winning Florida gave him the presidency under the electoral college system, even though he lost the popular vote.

''We're worried about Florida because the fulcrum ended up there, but what we really need to do is go state by state, precinct by precinct, and look at all the ways in which people were disenfranchised,'' said Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a prominent African American journalist.

A partial analysis by the Washington Post recently found that the problems were not limited to Florida.

Black areas of Alabama, for example, had one in every 16 ballots thrown out due to errors, while the invalidation rate for black neighbourhoods in Chicago, Illinois rose to one in six - much, much higher than the rates in white precincts. Both places were using old-fashioned machines that require voters to punch holes in a card, which can produce marred ballots if the bits of paper stick - the infamous ''hanging chads'' and ''pregnant chads''.

The discrepancy between votes cast and votes counted is called the ''drop-off rate'' by statisticians. Although the average national drop-off rate in 1996 was 2.08 percent, according to research by Scripps Howard News Service, it was more than twice that in areas with a majority of African American and Latino voters.

Other problems cited in the November election included confusion over voter registration rolls and polling places, police harassment, and the misclassification of thousands of people as convicted felons, who are barred from voting in many states.

Speakers at the meeting also expressed grave concern over the nomination of former Missouri Senator John Ashcroft for attorney-general, a key civil rights post.

In 1998, Ashcroft told an extremist publication called Southern Partisan that ''your magazine also helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Stonewall] Jackson and Jefferson [Davis]''.

''Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more,'' Ashcroft said in the interview. ''We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honour to some perverted agenda'' - meaning slavery.

Southern Partisan has described David Duke, a former Klansman who made a bid for the US Senate, as ''a Populist spokesperson for a recapturing of the American ideal''.

Ashcroft has yet to pass muster in the Senate, and Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition is leading the charge to block his appointment by aggressively lobbying Democratic lawmakers - who currently make up half the Senate - to vote against confirmation.

Another contested nomination is that of Christine Todd Whitman, the governor of New Jersey, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Whitman presided over a massive police racism scandal, prompting Al Sharpton to refer to her as the ''queen of racial profiling''.

''At a time when we espouse the values of democracy around the world, we cannot tolerate the dishonest and chicanery to suppress the vote of African American citizens,'' said Rev. Walter Fauntroy, a former congressman for the District of Columbia and president of the National Black Leadership Roundtable.

''We have a challenge as people of conscience to move this nation toward the principles that we enunciate but failed to live up to on Nov. 7,'' he said.

In addition to the ''Day of Resistance'' on Jan. 20, Fauntroy said that efforts would be made to get out the vote in upcoming legislative races. He also expected the public airing of voter complaints before the federal Civil Rights Commission headed by Mary Frances Berry, a push for uniform voting standards, and ongoing lawsuits.

In a discussion of alternatives to the current winner-take-all system, Columbia University Professor and syndicated columnist Manning Marable advocated ''instant run-off voting'', in which voters indicate a second choice on the ballot. If no candidate receives 50 percent, the candidates with the least votes are knocked off and their votes reassigned to the two front- runners.

''It would not require a constitutional amendment,'' Prof. Marable explained. ''You can vote for the person you want, and not end up with the person you hate the most'' - a reference to Ralph Nader supporters handing the election to Bush.

Other speakers included Laura Murphy, executive director of the legislative bureau of the American Civil Liberties Union, Dr. Ramona Edelin, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and Benjamin Jealous, executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the nation's only black wire service.

''We tend to take our own oppression for granted,'' Jealous said. ''Our commitment is to make sure that black young people understand that we won this election.''

Copyright 2001 InterPress Service


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