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Stealing the Election in Florida

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The Unreported Story of How They Fixed the Vote in Florida
From the book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Penguin 2003)
by Greg Palast

Reprinted in part from Pelast's book by workingforchange.com.

'This 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.

Conclusion: George W. wants to "help America vote"

The Florida vote count vaudeville has been used as cover to monkey with voting systems in several states -- all under the grinning disguise of "reform." Leading the charge: our Reformer-in-Chief, George W. Bush, who last year signed the something called the, "Help America Vote Act."

When George Bush wants to help us vote, I get a little nervous; nervous enough to read the fine print of his helpful law. Here's what I found: If you liked the way Florida handled the presidential vote in 2000, you'll just love Help America Vote Act -- and similar laws that have passed in the last two years in 10 states, and have been proposed in 16 others. The laws mandate the system that was at the heart of the Florida debacle: computer-aided purging of centralized voter files.

The Republicans especially have made brilliantly cynical use of hanging-chad mania to sell HAVA and other schemes to "fix" the voting systems which ain't broken. Take the case of Georgia. The day before the November 2000 election, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV jointly reported deceased Georgians had voted 5,412 times over the last 20 years. They trumpeted the case of one Alan J. Mandel, who they said cast his ballot in three separate elections after his demise in 1997. Subsequently, a very live Alan J. Mandell (note the two L's) told the secretary of the state that local election workers had accidentally checked off the wrong name on the list. Under a law signed April 18, 2001 -- an imitation of the ill Florida code -- Georgia's secretary of state now controls "list maintenance" and has taken over the power of deleting the names of dead voters.

We've seen reform before. Florida's Blackhunt purge began under the cover of the voting "reform" law passed by the state in 1998.

Who is the carrier of this ill "reform" wind? One vector is the high-sounding Voter Integrity Project, based just outside Washington, DC. The conservative, nonprofit advocacy organization has campaigned in parallel with the Republican Party against the 1993 motor voter law that resulted in a nationwide increase in voter registration of 7 million, much of it among minority voters. VIP's founding chairwoman is Helen Blackwell, wife of Ronald Reagan's staffer Morton Blackwell.

Just before the November 2000 election, VIP presented its special Voter Integrity Award to DBT -- at a VIP conference substantially paid for by . . . ChoicePoint's DBT unit, the company that gave Florida the bogus list of 'felons.' Noting proudly that "DBT is the company tasked with helping Florida clean up the State's voter registration records," VIP then launched into a campaign to take DBT's Florida methods to other states. VIP announced it had "entered into an agreement with DBT Online to identify small communities with demonstrated need for similar pro bono voter rolls ëscrubbing.' " Offers were extended to Pennsylvania and Tennessee, with Florida, the states considered toss-ups in the Gore-Bush race. (According to investigator Catherine Danielson, it looks like Bush won Tennessee the way he won Florida, through another odiferous purge operation.)

Notably, when Republican senator Chris Bond, joined at a press conference by VIP's chairwoman, announced he was introducing a bill to force Florida's voting methodologies on the entire nation, then-Senator Bob Torricelli stood with him grinning and agreeing -- which proves one can always find Democrats willing to attend their own political funeral.

Burying the Loot: Keeping the Florida Voter Rolls Whiter Than White

Back in Florida, the NAACP, acting on my report in Salon and the London papers, sued ChoicePoint's DBT, Katherine Harris and Clayton "Road Runner" Roberts for violating the civil rights of thousands of Florida citizens as guaranteed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

Harris insists she did no wrong. But a trial would have been a risky move for Harris, then running for Congress. (In June 2002, the last time she defended herself in court, a judge reached an unusual, albeit insightful, verdict: "This lady is crazy." Lucky for Harris the judge's remarks referred to her perverse interpretations of law, not to her general state of mind; otherwise, under Florida regulations, she would have to be purged from the voter rolls.)

With purge files oozing to the surface, ChoicePoint DBT announced it was getting out of the Scrubs-R-Us business and pleaded for mercy from the NAACP, begging for settlement, thereby avoiding class-action claims. Besides, having been so helpful to the President's election, they were now well placed for more lucrative business. (Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, ChoicePoint became one of the top recipients of lucrative no-bid, no-limit contractors for the War on Terror, offering up its multi-billion record databases to the Department of Homeland Security.)

In July 2002, Choicepoint's DBT signed off with People for the American Way, which acts as the NAACP's law firm, and confessed to the whole mess. They provided the court with list of 94,000 names, far more than I expected, who were targeted for the purge. Until then, I had estimated that the list had at best one in ten verifiable names. I was too kind. The DBT records show that one in thirty names on its list positively matched name, age, social security number race and other identifiers with the "felons" they were purported to be. In other words, over 90,000 citizens, half of them non-white, were wrongly named.

Harris, to avoid spending her congressional campaign locked in a witness box explaining her Jim Crow operation, her office and the state of Florida agreed to return the voters to the voter rolls. Sadly, they explained, they could not return the voters their rights until after Governor Bush's reelection.

[Note: Last month, in July 2003, I returned to Florida with my BBC crew to Congresswoman Harris' district. I met with the lead plaintiff in the NAACP case, Willie Steen, a veteran and hospital worker whom Florida agrees was wrongly tagged a felon. Steen to this day remains barred from registering to vote. Steen -- no surprise here -- is an African-American.]

And where, in all this, was the press? Finally, in summer of 2001, mirabile dictu, the Washington Post ran the story of the voter purge on page one, including the part that "couldn't stand up" for CBS and Salon . . . and even gave me space for a bylined comment. Applause for the Post's courage! Would I be ungrateful if I suggested otherwise? The Post printed the story in June, though they had it at hand seven months earlier when the ballots were still being counted. They waited until they knew the findings of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission report, which verified BBC's discoveries, so they could fire from behind that big safe rock of Official Imprimatur. In other words, the Post had the courage to charge out and shoot the wounded.

Democracy and the People Who Count: A Conclusion

This story of stolen elections -- the last one, the next one -- is not about computers, database management or voting machinery. If the theft of U.S. elections can be prevented by fixing our voting methods and equipment, we could solve our problems by the means suggested by the Russian Duma. The Russians voted a resolution demanding that American presidential elections, like Haiti's and Rwanda's, should be held under the auspices of the United Nations.

The solution to democracy's ills cannot be found in computer fixes or in banning butterfiy ballots. All that stuff about technology and procedure is vanishingly peripheral to this fact: In 2000, the man who lost the vote grabbed the power. I reported these stories from Europe, where simple minds think that the appropriate response to the discovery that the wrong man took office would be to remove him from that office.

So where do we turn? The Democrats' employing William (son of Boss) Daley as their spokesman during the Florida vote count, and Al Gore's despicably gracious concession speech, show that both political parties share, though in different measure, a contempt for the electorate's will.

Two other presidential elections were nearly stolen in the year 2000, in Peru and in Yugoslavia. How ironic that in those nations, though not in the United States, the voters' will ultimately counted. Peruvians and Yugoslavs took to heart Martin Luther King's admonition that rights are never given, only asserted. They knew: When the unelected seize the presidential palaces, democrats must seize the streets.

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