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.
Black-List Burning for Bush
How did British newspapers smell the Florida story
all the way across the Atlantic? At the time,
I was digging into George Bush Sr.'s gold-mining
business [Bush's gold mines? see Chapter 2 of
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy>], when
English newshound Solomon Hughes caught a note
on the Mother Jones Internet bulletin board
flagging a story in the Palm Beach Post
printed months before the election. The Post's
back pages mentioned that 8,000 voters had been
removed from the voter rolls by mistake. That's
one heck of a mistake. Given the Sturm und Drang
in Florida, you'd think that an American journalist
would pick up the story. Don't hold your breath.
There were a couple of curious reporters, but
they were easily waylaid by Florida's assurances
that the "mistake" had been corrected,
which the Post ran as truth.
But what if the Florida press puppies had been
wrong? What if they had stood on their hind legs
and swallowed a biscuit of bullshit from state
officialsˇand the "mistakes" had not been
It was worth a call.
From London, I contacted a statistician at the
office of the county elections supervisor in Tampa.
Such an expert technician would have no reason
to lie to me. The question at the top of my list:
"How many of the voters on the scrub list are
BLACK?" And the statistician said, "You know,
I've been waiting for someone to ask me that."
From his leads, I wrote "Black-Out in Florida"
(The Observer, London, November 26, 2000:
Al Gore would have strolled to victory in Florida
if the state hadn't kicked up to 66,000 citizens
off the voter registers five months ago as former
felons. In fact, not all were ex-cons. Most were
simply guilty of being African-American. A top-placed
election official told me that the government
had conducted a quiet review and found -- surprise!
-- that the listing included far more African-Americans
than would statistically have been expected, even
accounting for the grievous gap between the conviction
rates of Blacks and Whites in the U.S.
One list of 8,000 supposed felons was supplied
by Texas. But these criminals from the Lone Star
State had committed nothing more serious than
misdemeanors such as drunk driving (like their
governor, George W. Bush).
The source of this poisonous blacklist: Database
Technologies, acting under the direction of Governor
Jeb Bush's frothingly partisan secretary of state,
Katherine Harris. DBT, a division of ChoicePoint,
is under fire for misuse of personal data in state
computers in Pennsylvania. ChoicePoint's board
is loaded with Republican sugar daddies, including
Ken Langone, finance chief for Rudy Giuliani's
aborted Senate run against Hillary Clinton.
When the Observer report hit the streets
(of London), Gore was still in the race. Columnist
Joe Conason pushed his bosses at Salon.com to
pick up my story and take it further. But that
would not be easy. The Texas list error -- 8,000
names -- was corrected, said the state. That left
the tougher question: What about the 57,700 other
people named on that list?
The remaining names on the list were, in the majority,
Black -- not unusual in a nation where half of
all felony convictions are against African Americans.
But as half the names were Black, and if this
included even a tiny fraction of innocents,
well, there was the election for Bush. The question
was, then, whether the "corrected" list had in
fact been corrected. Finding the answer would
not be cheap for Salon. It meant big bucks; redirecting
their entire political staff to the story and
making hotshot reporters knuckle down to the drudgery
of calling and visiting county elections offices
all over Florida. But they agreed, and our Salon
team came back with a mother lode of evidence
proving that, by the most conservative analysis,
Florida had purged enough innocent Black voters
-- several thousand -- to snatch the presidency
from Al Gore.
At that time the presidential race was wide open.
Word was, Gore's camp was split, with warriors
fighting the gray-heads of the Establishment who
were pushing him to lie down and play dead, advice
he'd ultimately follow. Just before we hit the
electronic streets with it, someone called a key
player in the White House and Gore's inner circle
about the story Salon would soon break.
The Big Insider said, "That's fantastic! Who's
the reporter?" The tipster said, "This American,
he's a reporter in Britain, Greg Palast."
Mr. White House Insider replied, "Shit! We hate
that guy." But that's another story.
On December 4, 2000, I wrote, "Florida's Ethnic
Cleansing of the Voter Rolls," printed in Salon.com.
If Vice President Al Gore is wondering where his
Florida votes went, rather than sift through a
pile of chads, he might want to look at a "scrub
list" of 57,700 names targeted to be knocked off
the Florida voter registry by a division of the
office of Florida Secretary of State Katherine
Harris. A close examination suggests thousands
of voters may have lost their right to vote based
on a flaw-ridden list of purported "felons" provided
by a private firm with tight Republican ties.
How did we know the "felons" were innocent? We
asked a county elections official, Linda Howell,
of Madison County, Florida. In March 2000, Harris
sent the supervisor a list of criminals -- and
Ms. Howell's own name was on it.
was very upset," Howell said. "I know I'm not
a felon." Howell, a white Republican, refused
to remove her own name from the voter rolls and
threw out the Harris list. In another county,
an elections official restored the rights of one
"felon" on the list -- a local judge.
But not everyone on the list was treated so delicately.
did run some number stats and the number of Blacks
[on the list] was higher than expected for our
population," says Chuck Smith, a statistician
for Hillsborough County. Smith was concerned that
African-Americans made up 54 percent of the people
on the original felons list, though they constitute
only 11.6 percent of the county's voting population.
He challenged the state on this but was told by
Harris' office that since most criminals are Black
the figure was not surprising.
On the Hillsborough list, in hundreds of cases,
names of felons and voters did not match, nor
birthdates, nor even gender. Smith added that
the ChoicePoint computer program automatically
transformed various forms of a single name. In
one case, a voter named "Christine" was identified
as a felon based on the conviction of a "Christopher"
with the same last name. Smith says ChoicePoint
would not respond to queries about its proprietary
methods. Nor would the company provide additional
verification data to back its fingering certain
individuals in the registry purge.
By the rules established by Harris' office, a
voter is assumed guilty and convicted of a crime
and conviction unless and until they provide documentation
certifying their innocence. Some had been convicted
of a misdemeanor and not a felony, others were
felons who had had their rights restored and others
were simply cases of mistaken identity. While
there was much about the lists that bothered Hillsborough
Elections Supervisor Iorio, she felt she didn't
have a choice but to use them.
Of the 3,258 names on the original list, the county
concluded that more than 15 percent were in error,
and tried to restore as many as possible. If that
ratio held statewide, no fewer than 7,000
voters were incorrectly targeted for removal from
voting rosters. Gore lost by 537 votes.
Hillsborough County's attempt to do the right
thing was rare. In rural Florida, the mostly-Black
purge list met little opposition.
Etta Rosado, spokeswoman for the Volusia County
Department of Elections, said the county essentially
accepted the file at face value, did nothing to
confirm the accuracy of it and doesn't inform
citizens ahead of time that they have been dropped
from the voter rolls.
we get the con felon list, we automatically start
going through our rolls on the computer. If there's
a name that says John Smith was convicted of a
felony, then we enter a notation on our computer
that says convicted felon -- we mark an Űf' for
felon -- and the date that we received it," Rosado
don't think that it's up to us to tell them they're
a convicted felon," Rosado said. "If he's on our
rolls, we make a notation on there. If they show
up at a polling place, we'll say, ŰWait a minute,
you're a convicted felon, you can't vote.' Nine
out of ten times when we repeat that to the person,
they say ŰThank you' and walk away. They don't
put up arguments." Rosado doesn't know how many
people in Volusia were dropped from the list as
a result of being identified as felons.
She failed to add that in the two cases of black
voters who did raise a complaint, her office threatened
them with arrest if they voted and were proven
Florida was the only state in the nation to contract
the first stage of removal of voting rights to
a private company. And that company, ChoicePoint
Inc. of Atlanta, had big plans. "Given the outcome
of our work in Florida," said their PR spokesman,
"and with a new president in place, we think our
services will expand across the country."
Especially with a President named "Bush." ChoicePoint's
board, executive suite and consultant rosters
are packed with Republican stars, including former
New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir and
former ultra-Right congressman Vin Weber, ChoicePoint's
2 a.m., December 7, 2000. On the other end of
the line, heavy breathing, then a torrent of words
too fast for me to catch it all. "Vile . . . lying
. . . inaccurate . . . pack of nonsense . . .
riddled with errors . . ." click! This was not
a ChoicePoint whistleblower telling me about the
company's notorious list. It was Choice- Point's
own media communications representative, Marty
Fagan, communicating with me about my "sleazy
disgusting journalism" in reporting on it.
Truth is, Fagan was returning my calls. I was
curious about this company that chose the president
for America's voters.
They had quite a pedigree for this solemn task.
The company's Florida subsidiary, Database Technologies
(now DBT Online), was founded by one Hank Asher.
When U.S. law enforcement agencies alleged that
he might have been associated with Bahamian drug
dealers -- although no charges were brought --
the company lost its data management contract
with the FBI. Hank and his friends left and so,
in Florida's eyes, the past is forgiven.
Thursday, 3 a.m. A new, gentler voice gave me
ChoicePoint's upbeat spin. "You say we got over
15 percent wrong -- we like to look at that as
up to 85 percent right!" That's 7,000 votes-plus
-- the bulk Democrats, not to mention the thousands
on the faulty Texas list. (Gore lost the White
House by 537 votes.)
I contacted San Francisco˝based expert Mark Swedlund.
"It's just fundamental industry practice that
you don't roll out the list statewide until you
have tested it and tested it again," he said.
"Dershowitz is right: they had to know that this
jeopardized thousands of people's registrations.
And they would also know the [racial] profile
of those voters."
is Florida State, not ChoicePoint. Let's not get
confused about where the blame lies. Harris's
crew lit this database fuse, then acted surprised
when it blew up. Swedlund says ChoicePoint had
a professional responsibility to tell the state
to test the list; ChoicePoint says the state should
not have used its "raw" data.
Until Florida privatized its Big Brother powers,
laws kept the process out in the open. Just before
the election, when counties asked to see ChoicePoint's
formulas and back-up for blacklisting voters,
they refused -- these were commercial secrets.
So we'll never know how America's president was
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