October 29, 2002, George W. Bush signed the Help
America Vote Act (HAVA). Hidden behind its apple-pie-and-motherhood
name lies a nasty civil rights time bomb...
the purges. In the months leading up to the November
2000 presidential election, Florida Secretary
of State Katherine Harris, in coordination with
Governor Jeb Bush, ordered local election supervisors
to purge 57,700 voters from the registries, supposedly
ex-cons not allowed to vote in Florida. At least
90.2 percent of those on this "scrub" list, targeted
to lose their civil rights, are innocent. Notably,
more than half--about 54 percent--are black or
Hispanic. You can argue all night about the number
ultimately purged, but there's no argument that
this electoral racial pogrom ordered by Jeb Bush's
operatives gave the White House to his older brother.
HAVA not only blesses such purges, it requires
all fifty states to implement a similar search-and-destroy
mission against vulnerable voters. Specifically,
every state must, by the 2004 election, imitate
Florida's system of computerizing voter files.
The law then empowers fifty secretaries of state--fifty
Katherine Harrises--to purge these lists of "suspect"
purge is back, big time. Following the disclosure
in December 2000 of the black voter purge in Britain's
Observer newspaper, NAACP lawyers sued the state.
The civil rights group won a written promise from
Governor Jeb and from Harris's successor to return
wrongly scrubbed citizens to the voter rolls.
According to records given to the courts by ChoicePoint,
the company that generated the computerized lists,
the number of Floridians who were questionably
tagged totals 91,000. Willie Steen is one of them.
Recently, I caught up with Steen outside his office
at a Tampa hospital. Steen's case was easy. You
can't work in a hospital if you have a criminal
record. (My copy of Harris's hit list includes
an ex-con named O'Steen, close enough to cost
Willie Steen his vote.) The NAACP held up Steen's
case to the court as a prime example of the voter
state admitted Steen's innocence. But a year after
the NAACP won his case, Steen still couldn't register.
Why was he still under suspicion? What do we know
about this "potential felon," as Jeb called him?
Steen, unlike our President, honorably served
four years in the US military. There is, admittedly,
a suspect mark on his record: Steen remains an
you're black, voting in America is a game of chance.
First, there's the chance your registration card
will simply be thrown out. Millions of minority
citizens registered to vote using what are called
motor-voter forms. And Republicans know it. You
would not be surprised to learn that the Commission
on Civil Rights found widespread failures to add
these voters to the registers. My sources report
piles of dust-covered applications stacked up
in election offices.
once registered, there's the chance you'll be
named a felon. In Florida, besides those fake
felons on Harris's scrub sheets, some 600,000
residents are legally barred from voting because
they have a criminal record in the state. That's
one state. In the entire nation 1.4 million black
men with sentences served can't vote, 13 percent
of the nation's black male population.
step three, the real gambling begins. The Voting
Rights Act of 1965 guaranteed African-Americans
the right to vote--but it did not guarantee the
right to have their ballots counted. And in one
in seven cases, they aren't.
Gadsden County. Of Florida's sixty-seven counties,
Gadsden has the highest proportion of black residents:
58 percent. It also has the highest "spoilage"
rate, that is, ballots tossed out on technicalities:
one in eight votes cast but not counted. Next
door to Gadsden is white-majority Leon County,
where virtually every vote is counted (a spoilage
rate of one in 500).
do votes spoil? Apparently, any old odd mark on
a ballot will do it. In Gadsden, some voters wrote
in Al Gore instead of checking his name. Their
votes did not count.
law professor Christopher Edley Jr., a member
of the Commission on Civil Rights, didn't like
the smell of all those spoiled ballots. He dug
into the pile of tossed ballots and, deep in the
commission's official findings, reported this:
14.4 percent of black votes--one in seven--were
"invalidated," i.e., never counted. By contrast,
only 1.6 percent of nonblack voters' ballots were
electorate is 11 percent African-American. Florida
refused to count 179,855 spoiled ballots. A little
junior high school algebra applied to commission
numbers indicates that 54 percent, or 97,000,
of the votes "spoiled" were cast by black folk,
of whom more than 90 percent chose Gore. The nonblack
vote divided about evenly between Gore and Bush.
Therefore, had Harris allowed the counting of
these ballots, Al Gore would have racked up a
plurality of about 87,000 votes in Florida--162
times Bush's official margin of victory.
Florida. Now let's talk about America. In the
2000 election, 1.9 million votes cast were never
counted. Spoiled for technical reasons, like writing
in Gore's name, machine malfunctions and so on.
The reasons for ballot rejection vary, but there's
a suspicious shading to the ballots tossed into
the dumpster. Edley's team of Harvard experts
discovered that just as in Florida, the number
of ballots spoiled was--county by county, precinct
by precinct--in direct proportion to the local
black voting population.
racial profile mirrors the nation's--both in the
percentage of voters who are black and the racial
profile of the voters whose ballots don't count.
"In 2000, a black voter in Florida was ten times
as likely to have their vote spoiled--not counted--as
a white voter," explains political scientist Philip
Klinkner, co-author of Edley's Harvard report.
"National figures indicate that Florida is, surprisingly,
typical. Given the proportion of nonwhite to white
voters in America, then, it appears that about
half of all ballots spoiled in the USA, as many
as 1 million votes, were cast by nonwhite voters."
there you have it. In the last presidential election,
approximately 1 million black and other minorities
voted, and their ballots were thrown away. And
they will be tossed again in November 2004, efficiently,
by computer--because HAVA and other bogus reform
measures, stressing reform through complex computerization,
do not address, and in fact worsen, the racial
bias of the uncounted vote.
million votes will disappear in a puff of very
black smoke. And when the smoke clears, the Bush
clan will be warming their political careers in
the light of the ballot bonfire. HAVA nice day.
based on the new expanded election edition of
Best Democracy Money Can Buy, New York Times bestseller,
released this week by Penguin Books. You can purchase
this book from our website by clicking on the
link to it in the left column.
Posted: June 4, 2004