After the election on November 7, I thought there were only two honorable ways to resolve the competing claims. Either Al Gore should have gallantly conceded once the mechanical recount was completed and the absentee ballots tallied, or the whole state should have been recounted by hand with the same standard applied for what is, or what is not, a vote--a proposal that Gore belatedly offered.
I was (and still am) open to the idea of a Gore concession for two reasons: First, it's always been hard (and it's especially hard today) to imagine a way for Gore to be declared the winner in Florida--and then to make that stick. The Florida legislature, or the U.S. Congress, would likely overturn that result, and the mess would just get uglier.
Second, I like good losers, and Gore's dogged determination to drag this on teaches an unfortunate lesson about sportsmanship.
However, I can understand the desire of Gore and his supporters to fight on.
It appears as though a plurality of Floridians who went to the polls on November 7 intended to vote for Gore. But by accident, irregularity, or Republican antics, Bush appears to have won the number of votes counted.
And these accidents, irregularities, and antics are legion: the infamous butterfly ballots; the 27,000 ballots thrown out in Duval County because voters, mostly African American Democrats, did what Democratic organizers told them to do and voted on every page, and as a result voted for more than one candidate for President; the 10,750 Miami-Dade ballots that the machines couldn't read; the Republican mob that intimidated Miami-Dade into not doing a manual recount of those ballots; the Miami mayor, whom the Republicans appear to have successfully leaned on; Katherine Harris's hack performance; Nassau County's decision to deprive Gore of fifty-one votes he earned after the mandatory machine recount; the absentee-ballot applications that Republicans fixed by hand, using government computers, while allegedly denying Democrats the opportunity to do the same.
But most serious of all, to my mind, are the allegations of violations of the Voting Rights Act. According to many sources, there was a pattern of discrimination against African Americans in Florida.
Some African Americans (including a person interviewed on the Today Show December 5) charge that they had a valid voter registration but were nevertheless denied the right to vote on November 7.
"Registered black college students at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach and Tallahassee's Florida A&M University said they were turned away from the polls even though they had signed up in fall registration drives," Marian Dozier of Knight Ridder reported.
"In Tampa, an African American voter contends he was turned away after he was unable to display a photo ID, while white voters were permitted to vote without showing identification," The Washington Post reported on November 11. "In Miami, a number of Haitian Americans, many of them first-time voters in the United States, said they were turned away from polling stations after complaining that the ballots confused them. They claim to have been denied translation help and other assistance that was supposed to be available from election officials. . . . Some Haitian Americans reported their names had been improperly omitted from registration lists."
The December 5 cover story of the Village Voice, by Laura Conaway and James Ridgeway, is entitled: "Slavery's Legacy: How Florida shackled Thousands of Black Votes." The authors say: "Hundreds of registered voters would tell the NAACP they were wrongly turned away from precincts across the state, because election clerks refused to accept their IDs, or polls in black districts closed early, or police set up roadblocks outside the halls. . . . Minority voters who were registered and had voted for years were told they didn't appear on voter lists; voters without Florida IDs were turned away, though the law says they can cast 'affidavit ballots.' In some counties, minority voters say they were asked for a photo ID while white voters were not, or were turned away even when they showed up with a voter card and photo ID. People who lacked a photo ID or weren't on the voting list were put into a 'problem line,' where they were told voting officials were trying to call headquarters to find out what to do. But the lines were jammed, and they just couldn't get through. Discouraged, voters gave up and went home."
Intimidation of Haitian American voters was especially high, the Voice reported. The article quotes Marleine Bastien, a Haitian American organizer in Dade county, saying: "Some were threatened with deportation. . . . There were groups of people giving out information saying that voting Democratic is like voting for the devil and Ku Klux Klan."
Bastien also said, "People in line were prevented from voting because of polling deadlines, even if they were in line before 7 p.m., the cutoff time."
The Guardian of London, meanwhile, on November 28 reported that "Vice President Al Gore would have strolled to victory in Florida if the state hadn't kicked 12,000 citizens off the voters' registers five months ago as former felons. In fact, only a fraction were ex-cons. Most were simply guilty of being African American. While 8,000 of those disenfranchised went through the legal rigmarole of getting on to the voting list, the rest--enough to have won the state for Gore--did not."
On December 4, The Guardian added more details on this effort, which it says was spearheaded by Katherine Harris.
It also cites roadblocks set up by Florida highway patrolmen about a mile before a polling station near Tallahassee. "They were stopping everybody," Darryl Gorham, who was driving some neighbors to the polls, told The Guardian. "I've lived in Florida most of my life, but I have never ever seen a roadblock like that." The Guardian said, "Mr. Gorham is convinced that the white policemen were trying to slow down the flow of black voters in a historically tight election."
In addition, faulty and archaic machinery was located in predominantly African American polling places, The New York Times reported. "The impact of these differences on the outcome will never be known," the November 29 article stated, "but their potential magnitude is evident in Miami-Dade County, where predominantly black precincts saw their votes thrown out at twice the rate as Hispanic precincts and nearly four times the rate of white precincts. In all, one of eleven ballots in predominantly black precincts were rejected, a total of 9,904."
In another article the same day, the Times reported that some precincts were provided with laptop computers to check voters' registration, but some heavily black precincts did not get them. As a result, a disproportionate number of registered black voters were turned away when the poll watchers could not confirm their status.
"The NAACP was appalled to hear testimony of conduct that would clearly adversely impact the voting strength of Florida's minority voters and that could be reasonably considered an intentional effort to deny the franchise to voters of color," said Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, on November 16. The NAACP called for a federal investigation, and on December 3, the Justice Department announced that it was launching an inquiry into this matter, The Guardian reported.
Depriving African Americans of their constitutional right to vote, guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, may turn out to be the biggest scandal of this scandal-ridden election.
Copyright 2000 The Progressive, Madison WI