The tactics have changed, but the goal remains depressingly the same: Keep the coloreds, the blacks, the African-Americans — whatever they're called in the particular instance — keep them out of the voting booths.
Do not let them vote! If you can find a way to stop them, stop them.
So here we go again, this time in Florida.
It turns out that the state of Florida is using a private company with close ties to the Republican Party to help "cleanse" the state's voter registration rolls. Would it surprise anyone anywhere to learn that the cleansing process somehow managed to improperly prevent large numbers of African-American voters from voting in the presidential election?
Gregory Palast, a reporter with the online magazine Salon, has done a number of articles on this. He noted that the company, ChoicePoint, and its subsidiary, Database Technologies Inc. (DBT), came up with a "scrub list" of 173,000 names. These were the names of people registered to vote in Florida who, according to ChoicePoint, could be knocked off the rolls for one reason or another.
There was good reason for Florida to be concerned about the integrity of its voter registration rolls. In 1997 the mayor of Miami was removed from office because widespread fraud had occurred in the election. The following year a law was passed requiring counties in Florida to purge the rolls of duplicate registrations, the names of deceased persons and felons.
So far, so good. The problems developed when the state turned to ChoicePoint, which compiles and sells vast amounts of frequently shaky information about individuals. (ChoicePoint, which acquired DBT last May, was fired by the state of Pennsylvania for breaching the confidentiality of driving records.) With this private outfit in the picture it soon became clear that top Republican officials would be trying to reap a partisan political advantage from a law designed to correct an egregious wrong. And that partisan advantage would be realized in large part by trampling on the voting rights of minorities.
Over the spring and summer ChoicePoint was forced to acknowledge that 8,000 voters it had listed as felons had in fact been guilty only of misdemeanors, which would not have affected their right to vote. What is maddening is that when such an erroneous list of names gets into the hands of county election officials, as this one did, it is very difficult — often impossible — to find out what's correct and what's not correct.
That snickering you hear is from Republican operatives who know that these kinds of foul-ups, because they are based on criminal records, will disproportionately affect minority voters.
ChoicePoint eventually came up with a "corrected" list of 173,000 names of people it targeted as ineligible because they were deceased, or were registered more than once, or had been convicted of a felony.
But it was a lousy list, riddled with mistakes. And in an interview with me yesterday, Marty Fagan, a ChoicePoint vice president, said there had never been any expectation that the list would be particularly accurate. Remember now, we're talking about a list that would be used to strip Americans of the precious right to vote.
Mr. Fagan said the list focused on people who "might" have been deceased, or might have been listed twice, or "possible felons." He said it was "important to know" that the information needed to be "verified" by county election officials.
That was interesting, because ChoicePoint came up with 58,000 people — people registered to vote — who would fall into the category he calls "possible felons." How in the world were county election officials supposed to check out each and every one and find out if they were felons or not?
They couldn't. They didn't.
The horror stories about perfectly innocent black voters being turned away from the polls because they had been targeted as convicted felons started coming in early on the morning of Nov. 7, Election Day. And they're still coming in.
Blacks turned out to vote in record numbers in Florida this year, but huge numbers were systematically turned away for one specious reason after another.
The tactics have changed, but the goal remains the same.
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company