the 2000 presidential election, 1.9 million Americans
cast ballots that no one counted. "Spoiled votes"
is the technical term. The pile of ballots left
to rot has a distinctly dark hue: About 1 million
of them -- half of the rejected ballots -- were
cast by African Americans although black voters
make up only 12 percent of the electorate.
year, it could get worse.
ugly racial statistics are hidden away in the
mathematical thickets of the appendices to official
reports coming out of the investigation of ballot-box
monkey business in Florida from the last go-'round.
do you spoil 2 million ballots? Not by leaving
them out of the fridge too long. A stray mark,
a jammed machine, a punch card punched twice will
do it. It's easy to lose your vote, especially
when some politicians want your vote lost.
investigating the 2000 ballot count in Florida
for BBC Television, I saw firsthand how the spoilage
game was played -- with black voters the predetermined
Gadsden County has the highest percentage of black
voters in the state -- and the highest spoilage
rate. One in 8 votes cast there in 2000 was never
counted. Many voters wrote in "Al Gore." Optical
reading machines rejected these because "Al" is
a "stray mark."
contrast, in neighboring Tallahassee, the capital,
vote spoilage was nearly zip; every vote counted.
The difference? In Tallahassee's white- majority
county, voters placed their ballots directly into
optical scanners. If they added a stray mark,
they received another ballot with instructions
to correct it.
other words, in the white county, make a mistake
and get another ballot; in the black county, make
a mistake, your ballot is tossed.
U.S. Civil Rights Commission looked into the smelly
pile of spoiled ballots and concluded that, of
the 179,855 ballots invalidated by Florida officials,
53 percent were cast by black voters. In Florida,
a black citizen was 10 times as likely to have
a vote rejected as a white voter.
let's not get smug about Florida's Jim Crow spoilage
rate. Civil Rights Commissioner Christopher Edley,
recently appointed dean of Boalt Hall School of
Law at UC Berkeley, took the Florida study nationwide.
His team discovered the uncomfortable fact that
Florida is typical of the nation.
Klinkner, the statistician working on the Edley
investigations, concluded, "It appears that about
half of all ballots spoiled in the U.S.A. -- about
1 million votes -- were cast by nonwhite voters."
"no count," as the Civil Rights Commission calls
it, is no accident. In Florida, for example, I
discovered that technicians had warned Gov. Jeb
Bush's office well in advance of November 2000
of the racial bend in the vote- count procedures.
lies the problem. An apartheid vote-counting system
is far from politically neutral. Given that more
than 90 percent of the black electorate votes
Democratic, had all the "spoiled" votes been tallied,
Gore would have taken Florida in a walk, not to
mention fattening his popular vote total nationwide.
It's not surprising that the First Brother's team,
informed of impending rejection of black ballots,
looked away and whistled.
ballot-box blackout is not the monopoly of one
party. Cook County, Ill., has one of the nation's
worst spoilage rates. That's not surprising. Boss
Daley's Democratic machine, now his son's, survives
by systematic disenfranchisement of Chicago's
can we fix it? First, let's shed the convenient
excuses for vote spoilage, such as a lack of voter
education. One television network stated as fact
that Florida's black voters, newly registered
and lacking education, had difficulty with their
ballots. In other words, blacks are too dumb to
convenient racist excuse is dead wrong. After
that disaster in Gadsden, Fla., public outcry
forced the government to change that black county's
procedures to match that of white counties. The
result: near zero spoilage in the 2002 election.
Ballot design, machines and procedure, says statistician
Klinkner, control spoilage.
other words, the vote counters, not the voters,
are to blame. Politicians who choose the type
of ballot and the method of counting have long
fine-tuned the spoilage rate to their liking.
is about to get worse. The ill-named "Help America
Vote Act," signed by President Bush in 2002, is
pushing computerization of the ballot box.
decertified some of Diebold Corp.'s digital ballot
boxes in response to fears that hackers could
pick our next president. But the known danger
of black-box voting is that computers, even with
their software secure, are vulnerable to low-tech
spoilage games: polls opening late, locked-in
votes, votes lost in the ether.
once again, the history of computer-voting glitches
has a decidedly racial bias. Florida's Broward
County grandly shifted to touch-screen voting
in 2002. In white precincts, all seemed to go
well. In black precincts, hundreds of African
Americans showed up at polls with machines down
and votes that simply disappeared.
digital won't fix the problem. Canada and Sweden
vote on paper ballots with little spoilage and
without suspicious counts.
America, a simple fix based on paper balloting
is resisted because, unfortunately, too many politicians
who understand the racial bias in the vote- spoilage
game are its beneficiaries, with little incentive
to find those missing 1 million black voters'
Greg Palast is the author of "The Best Democracy
Money Can Buy - The New Expanded Election Edition"
from which this article is taken. For more information,
Posted: June 28, 2004