in part from Pelast's book by workingforchange.com.
series is part of the WorkingForChange campaign,
in cooperation with Martin Luther King III of
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,
to prevent the theft of the presidential election
of 2004. There is a link included to sign onto
the WorkingForChange/King petition.
Mary Frances Berry, chairperson of the U.S. Civil
Rights Commission, said the real horror of the
2000 election was not the vote count that so transfixed
our media, but what she calls "the no count" --
the means of keeping citizens from voting or having
their ballots voided.
And Florida used more than the voter purge in
their "no count" bag of tricks. In February 2001,
I found a doozy.
This fact caught my attention: In a presidential
race decided by 537 votes, Florida simply did
not count 179,855 ballots. And whether your
vote counted depended a lot on your color. In
Leon (Tallahassee), a primarily white county,
only 1 in 500 ballots was uncounted, "spoiled,"
as they say in the vote biz, that is, voided for
one reason or another. In neighboring Gadsden,
with a high population of Black voters, 1 in
8 ballots was never counted.
Here's the breakdown of ballots not counted in
Florida's Blackest and whitest counties:
Population 25+% African American
Gadsden 52% Black population. Votes not counted:
Madison 42% Black population. Votes not counted:
Hamilton 39% Black population. Votes not counted:
Jackson 26% Black population. Votes not counted:
Fewer than 5% African American
Citrus 2% Black population. Votes not counted:
Pasco 2% Black population. Votes not counted:
Santa Rosa 4% Black population. Votes not counted:
Sarasota 4% Black population. Votes not counted:
Detect a pattern?
How could this happen? Exactly how do votes "spoil"?
And why do Black votes spoil so easily?
I found the answer in the Tallahassee office of
Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho.
Like many other counties, Sancho's used paper
ballots. These ballots are read by machine, "optically
scanned." He had set up a voting machine to demonstrate
its use. I tried it out, voting for Pat Buchanan
and Ralph Nader -- a deliberate error as
a gag for a documentary film crew. I marked the
ballot, then put it into a slot in the machine
and -- grrrr-zunt! -- it shot back into my hands,
recognizing my error. You cannot make a
voting mistake on this machine, called an "Accuvote."
Mighty cool. But if you can't make a mistake,
how did so many votes "spoil" in paper ballot
counties? I asked a clerk: Does every county using
paper ballots have this machine? The answer --
yes and no -- was disturbing. The adjoining county,
Gadsden, also had machine-read paper ballots,
but did not activate the reject mechanism.
Make one wrong mark on your ballot in Gadsden
and your ballot disappears into the machine --
it will not be counted. For example, some voters
had checked off and written in the name "Al Gore"
-- yet their vote did not count for Gore. So I
asked what I call The Florida Question: "By any
chance, do you know the racial profile of counties
where machines accept bad ballots?"
Then I got The Florida Answer: "We've been waiting
for someone to ask us that." The clerk then pulled
out a huge multicolored sheet, listing, for every
Florida county, the number of ballots not counted.
The proportion of uncounted ballots to the Black
population, county by county, was a nearly perfect
match. But Ted Koppel's Nightline tells us this
was because Blacks were too ignorant to figure
out the ballot. Could Ted have gotten it wrong?
As the Tallahassee officials demonstrated to me,
whether a ballot was counted or not had almost
nothing to do with the voter's education or sophistication
-- but an awful lot to do with the type of machine
deployed and how the buttons were set.
Then I got to the 64 Dollar questions: What did
Harris and the governor know and when did they
know it? Was either aware of this racially loaded
technical problem? Harris's office and Jeb's are
literally a stone's throw away from Sancho's.
The technicians told me, "That's why we set up
this machine, so they could see it -- before
The Consortium That Couldn't Count
Twisted press coverage murdered the story of ethnic
cleansing of the voter rolls. But simply smothering
the news wasn't good enough for The New York
Times, CNN and the other keepers of the New
Information Order. With other major news outlets,
they joined together as "the Consortium" and spent
a wagonload of cash to hire the National Opinion
Research Center (NORC), of the University of Chicago,
to conduct what was wrongly called a "recount"
of the ballots. For months they held back the
results. Finally, more than a year after the election,
they released their findings. "Bush would have
won anyway," headlines reassured us. So shut up,
move on, get over it: The Lion of Kabul won fair
and square. Or did he?
First, understand that NORC did not "recount"
the ballots. Rather, its teams described each
of the 180,000 "spoiled" ballots that Katherine
Harris barred from the official total. This was
the first count of these ballots. Also,
NORC "coders" were not allowed to count these
ballots either, merely provide physical descriptions
of each ballot. They could note, in code, "Paper
ballot, Gore circled," but could not count that
ballot as a vote for Gore. The newspaper and television
executives and editors, not the NORC experts,
called the "winner" in this one.
Most Americans would have thought the goal of
this million dollar investigation was to find
out whom Floridians wanted to vote for. That tends
to be what we mean by "democracy." But the news
bosses were in no mood for a democracy that threatened
the legitimacy of authority, especially with the
war on in Afghanistan and an economy in the toilet.
So, despite the fact that NORC coders clearly
found that the majority of Florida voters thought
they had voted for Gore, the papers called the
NORC findings for Bush. Like, huh? NORC has put
its data on the Web, so the Gore majority is there
for all to see (for those who bother to look).
The media chiefs' trick was to say that, going
by various Florida rules, which knock out ballots
with stray markings, Bush would have won. Well,
we already knew that: That's how Katherine Harris
called it for Bush -- on technicalities, not votes.
Through this editorial three-card monte, the Republic
I watched the NORC operation firsthand in Miami
in February 2001. There was an Alice in Wonderland
weirdness in the process -- "First we announce
the winner, then we count the ballots."
It was not difficult to discern which candidate
the voters wanted. "It screamed at you," said
one counter. If someone circled "Gore," who do
you think he or she wanted as president? Yet,
thousands of such ballots were tossed out of the
official count. Tens of thousands were disenfranchised
because of a wrongly placed or stray mark -- often
made by the voting machine itself, as it turns
out. The Consortium members did not comment on
this exclusion of tens of thousands of clearly
marked ballots or on its effect: the inauguration
of the wrong person.
Use Notice: This site contains copyrighted material
the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright
owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding
of environmental, political, economic, democratic, domestic and international
issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted
material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance
with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without
profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included
information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to:
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own
that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.