Published on Tueday, November 14, 2000 by Inter Press Service
Irregularities, Harassment Reported by Blacks in US Voting
NEW YORK - Complaints continue to mount from African-
around the country who say they were prevented from voting or that
observed serious irregularities in last week's poll for the
Among the obstacles reported were registration challenges, intimidation, misleading information, police profiling near predominately Black polling stations and ballot tampering.
''The system is not working for us - again,'' said Florida Congresswoman Carrie Meek, who added in a published report that she personally was aware of hundreds of complaints from black voters.
Reports of alleged voter fraud continue to emerge as well from Florida counties, now in the international limelight, including reports from two African-American weekly papers.
In Fort Myers, Florida, Charles Weaver, publisher of the Community Voice, said: ''In Republican Country, (I) received at least a dozen calls from people with all kinds of apparent 'voting inequities.'''
Visiting one of the polls himself, he said he witnessed ''intimidation, harassment and apparent illegal activity'' at the precinct.
''There were illegal poll watchers, threatening people, telling them, 'I know where you work. You're going to get fired.'''
''One guy who lost his wallet was not allowed to vote because he had no identification - rather than asking him to sign a document stating his identification as (is legally) required,'' Weaver said.
At another African-American weekly, Miami Times, Tonnette Collier, a reporter, said her newspaper got so many calls that she lost count. ''There were a lot of elderly people. They were very upset,'' she said. ''It's so much confusion, it's unbelievable.''
Many callers told of a police check point that was stopping cars on a road that leads to the First Baptist Church of Woodville in Tallahassee, Collier said.
Major Ken Howes of the Tallahassee Highway Patrol confirmed that his department did conduct what he called a ''routine'' check point on Oakridge Road about ''2.1 miles'' from the precinct. He said the check, ''one of 31 that been conducted in the last 30 days in this area,'' had nothing to do with voting or elections, but was to enforce laws pertaining to licenses, insurance and faulty equipment on cars.
Similar troubles were reported by Anita Hodgkiss, senior attorney at The Advancement Project and a former voting rights lawyer with the US Justice Department.
Hodgkiss volunteered to work with other lawyers on a telephone hotline taking calls on direct intimidation or obstruction of potential voters. 'Apparently, police in Newport News, VA were stopping people at checkpoints,'' she says. ''In St. Louis, Missouri, some voters there were turned away for not having their cards, while their White counterparts were allowed to vote.
''We also got a lot of calls from ex-felons who wanted to vote, but couldn't. The good thing is that they were (calling from) states where they could vote. In Florida now, there is a legal challenge pending to the disenfranchisement of ex-offenders.''
A statement released by the human rights group Human Rights Watch noted that Florida, being one of over a dozen states that denies the right to vote to ex-offenders, kept 400,000 (black and white) individuals out of the election booths. One third of African-American men in that state, or 200,000, cannot vote because of a past felony arrest.
Nationally, one in 50 adults, or nearly 4 million US citizens cannot vote because of felony records, and 1.4 million of them have completed their sentences and are not on probation or parole.
In a 1998 report, the human rights group estimated that 30-40 percent of the next generation of African-American men may be disenfranchised because of criminal records.
Meanwhile, the nation's largest black civil rights group, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), has asked Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate possible violations of constitutional guarantees of the right to vote.
''On the surface, there appears to be a violation of the 15th Amendment, which guarantees minority voters the right to vote for the candidate of their choice,'' said Julian Bond, NAACP chairman, in a published report.
The voter fraud allegations, said NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, ''raise serious questions about the fairness and accuracy of the election ... Our sense is that the level and number of calls we received suggest very serious problems, perhaps even nationwide''.
Copyright 2000 IPS