Jose on US election: Part I

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Mon Dec 11 08:55:51 MST 2000

[bounced > 30K characters. Part I]

There's quite a bit more to this U.S. election story than Louis has room
for in his brief summary, and it does have to do with Gore and Bush,
eventually.  But fixating on which one of them gets the lease on the
White House should not be the central overriding concern of working
people in the current situation.

To understand what's happened, it's necessary to go back many months.

Long BEFORE the elections, Kathleen Harris, [Florida] Governor [Jeb]
Bush's [state] running mate in the previous [Florida] election and
political hatchet, as well as co chair of [Texas] Governor [George W.]
Bush's Florida campaign, and [George W.] Bush candidate for member of
the electoral college from Florida, organized and directed a purge of
the lists of registered voters.

This purge used a reactionary post-civil-war statute that bars felons
from voting even after they have "paid their debt to society" which was
one of the first of a whole series of post-civil war statutes meant to
disenfranchise blacks. The purge also sought to disenfranchise those who
had supposedly moved without telling the local election authorities.

This purge was based on lists drawn up by an Atlanta company with ties
to the Republican party. The company's lists of alleged felons were
drawn up with a proprietary "fuzzy logic" algorithm that claims to be
able to identify people based on similarity of their names and so on
(i.e., a "Kathleen" Harris might be purged on the basis that this
company imagines some other state in the U.S. claims a "Kathy" Harris is
a felon).

[I'm not aware of any studies to this effect, but I've lived long and
widely enough to be willing to bet that in the United States, such a
methodology is going to impact and misidentify many more Blacks than
whites -- because so many Black families have inherited the names of the
slaveowners, which were not so numerous to begin with.]

The purge was carried out, to use a favorite phrase in this election,
with "no discernible standards." Some counties checked on the list, and
finding it to be shot through with errors, ignored it. Others used it as
a basis for sending letters to electors asking them to verify or
challenge the information. Still others purged the names provisionally
but sent letters offering people a chance to challenge the purge. Still
others purged the names and those affected did not find out until they
went to vote, when they were turned away.

How accurate were the purge lists? Well, in one county the supervisor of
elections was among those who were going to be purged. In another, a
state circuit court judge. Some 8,000 names of people who were
admittedly NOT felons were identified as such by --isn't *this* a
strange coincidence-- the state of Texas, where ANOTHER governor Bush
heads the state government, is the brother of Florida's governor Bush,
and happened to be running for President.

Several thousand people successfully challenged their deletion from the
voter rolls. Thousands more did not, in many cases, because they were
not given an opportunity to.

The next time you hear all this bourgeois cant and hypocrisy about the
sacred right to vote, due process of law, fundamental fairness, the
right to face your accusers and so on, think about that: your sworn
statement backed up by whatever documentation the registering
authorities chose to demand and examine are worth less than the mere
unsworn suspicion of some Republican dominated private firm that refuses
to even disclose why it thinks you are the same person as someone else
with a different name.

In many if not most cases, those whose right to vote was challenged by
poll workers were not afforded the correct procedure prescribed by law,
which is that they can still vote after swearing out an affidavit; these
votes and the corresponding affidavits are segregated, taken before a
judge, who then rules on whether the person is an eligible voter or
not. Even people who knew the law and tried to insist on their right to
cast an "affidavit ballot" were denied this right; in many areas the
requisite affidavit forms had not been supplied by the county election
authorities, nor had the election workers been trained in their use.

In precincts, especially in the "deep south" panhandle of Florida,
people who were in line at the time the polls closed were not allowed to
vote, contrary to what is provided for in law.

In various points in the same general area, the north of Florida, the
state highway patrol set up checkpoints near voting places, holding up
people on their way to vote. According to the state highway patrol,
these roadblocks were not authorized. But they happened nevertheless.

There was wide disparity in the number of ballots considered
"undervotes" and "overvotes" for president. These ranged from a low of
.2% in the one county with hand-counted paper ballots, to less than 1%
in counties with optically-scanned paper ballots, to as much as 30% in
some specific polling places in some counties using punch-card voting
machines. Just remember that the NEXT time CNN brings you (completely
unchallenged, without any attempt to provide context, perspective, or a
different point of view) some Bushite mouthpiece claiming that counting
uncounted ballots by hand in this or that county is "unfair" because
votes in Republican counties weren't afforded the same treatment.

Voting equipment and machines belong to county governments and are
maintained centrally by county officials. In county after county (of the
40 or so "punch card" counties, out of nearly 70 all told) there is a
clear pattern of punch-card machines of different models and ages and
effectiveness in registering votes being used; and there is a clear
pattern of the heaviest "undervotes" being registered in Black
precincts. In some Duval county Black precincts, the number of rejected
presidential ballots was as high as 31%; in other, all-white Duval
county precincts, the number of rejected presidential ballots was on the
order of 1-2%. In other words, a) Black precincts were systematically
assigned machines less likely to register machine-readable votes and b)
Black voters were rendered less effective assistance in casting valid
ballots by election workers than white voters.

In several heavily white counties, ballots were immediately scanned to
detect undervotes and overvotes as soon as the person came out of the
voting booth; those who cast invalid ballots were given the opportunity
to have that ballot set aside and vote again. Obviously, the same did
not happen in the disproportionately Black precincts where the
"undervote" and "overvote" was concentrated.

In each and every one of the irregularities mentioned, those affected
were disproportionately Blacks. In the case of the purge of felons, not
only was there a higher percentage of Blacks than in the general
population, there was a higher percentage of Blacks on the list than
among all felons. This ILLEGAL purge of mostly Black male voters is
especially notable given that an estimated 31% of Florida Black male
voters were already LEGALLY disenfranchised, thanks largely to the "drug

Blacks who did succeed in voting in Florida voted for Vice-President
Gore by a better than 10-1 margin, according to exit polls and data from
precincts known to be all Black or virtually all-Black on the basis of
census bureau data.

Following the elections, the Bush campaign has carried out a systematic
campaign to prevent and sabotage an actual count of the actual
ballots. They have repeatedly brought lawsuits against harried county
election supervisors, who are very minor government functionaries. They
have brought in world-class bourgeois political figures headed by James
Baker to intimidate them. During the actual count, they have challenged
every conceivable Democratic vote on every conceivable grounds or no
grounds whatsoever. They have repeatedly threatened to throw the country
into "a constitutional crisis." And they have set into motion a special
session of the Florida State Legislature to rubber-stamp the Bush slate
of electors to the electoral college (including Kathleen Harris), in
clear violation of Article 2 of the federal constitution which mandates
state legislatures to decide "the manner" in which presidential electors
are chosen, but decidedly does not authorize them to select their own
slate if the slate chosen in "the manner" the legislature has decided
proved not to the liking of the party having a parliamentary majority.

[And think about that one the next time CNN broadcasts, unchallenged,
unquestioned, Republican mouthpiece arguments that hand counting the
votes that were cast would be a "change" in election procedures after
the vote, which is forbidden by Federal statute.]

And when all of this proved to no avail in heavily Democrat Dade County,
where an actual count of the remaining 9,000 "undervotes" would
undoubtedly have shown that Gore won the election, no matter how strict
the standard of interpretation, they organized a mob attack on the
counting operation. This attack was led by operatives sent in by House
whip Tom DeLay in cooperation with the right-wing gusano mafia. It
succeeded in intimidating the three-member Dade County canvassing board
into calling off a manual recount of the votes.

The Florida State Supreme Court found that, although the board had
discretion in deciding whether or not a recount was necessary, once it
had so decided, it had no power, no authority, no discretion, and no
basis in law to suspend it: once a canvassing board determines that
there are good and sufficient reasons for a manual recount, it MUST be
completed. Kinda makes sense, doesn't it? Otherwise, if the party that
controlled the canvassing board didn't like the way the recount was
going, all they need do is call it off.

Which is precisely what the Republicans did through mob intimidation.

What does all this show? That the government of the state of Florida,
acting under color of law and with the complicity of the Bush campaign
and [George W.] Bush's government in the state of Texas, went on a
systematic, conscious campaign, before, during and after the balloting,
to prevent Black citizens from voting; to prevent Black citizens from
casting ballots that would be machine-readable; and to prevent the
non-machine readable ballots, which disproportionately came from
disproportionately Black voting precincts, from being counted.

This was done in violation of the Bill of Rights; the 13, 14 and 15th
amendments to the U.S. Constitution ratified in the wake of the Civil
War; the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and every other federal civil rights
law ever written, and especially the voting rights act of 1965. The was
done in violation of the Florida Constitution, Florida civil rights
statutes, election codes and procedures. The was done in violation of
countless federal Supreme Court rulings, state Supreme Court ruling, as
well as state and federal appellate and local court rulings.

So much for the "rule of law," "a government of laws and not of men,"
and other pieties of American mythology.

After all "one man, one vote," that's the U.S.'s claim to fame. You may
be half starved and sleeping under a bridge, but in the sanctity of the
voting booth, in the altar of democracy, in the holy or holies of God,
motherhood and apple pie, your vote supposedly counts just as much as
Bill Gates's does.

Yeah, sure.

These actions by the government of Florida at the state and local level,
in cooperation with the Bush campaign, a private company that appears to
be an instrumentality of the Republican Party, the Government of Texas,
and undoubtedly others, constitute acts of rebellion and of treason,
aiming as they do to make George Bush president despite the fact that he
lost the national popular vote, the Florida popular vote, and therefore
also the electoral college vote.

[These are, by the way, *precisely* the kinds of activities the framers
of the constitution had in mind when they specified in the Constitution
that the President and Vice-President may be impeached for "high crimes
and misdemeanors," i.e., crimes against the established political
institutions, political crimes against the state. I've yet to hear a
SINGLE Democrat officeholder suggest that this attempt to reimpose what
is for all intents and purposes a King George should be met with the
appropriate Constitutional response, never mind dealt with the way the
LAST King George to rule over these lands was dealt with.]

In addition to these irregularities and abuses, in two Florida counties
--Duval (Jacksonville) and Palm Beach -- election officials, perhaps
unwittingly, created ballots which confused many voters, to the
disproportionate prejudice of Vice-President Gore. In Jacksonville, the
presidential race was spread over two two-page spreads of the ballot
book, something which was accompanied by an EXPLICIT instruction
prominently printed in the book to "vote on every page." In Palm Beach
County, a controversial "butterfly" ballot was used. Contrary to the
universal practice throughout the U.S., the presidential race was spread
across a two-page spread of the "butterfly ballot" and this resulted in
Buchanan having the second punch hole although Gore was the second
candidate listed on the ballot.

Analysis using the most exact statistical techniques available show that
of the less than 4,000 votes cast for Buchanan, about 3,000 were in fact
Gore voters misled by the confusing ballot layout. In addition, nearly
20,000 votes were disqualified as "overvotes," overwhelmingly votes for
both Buchanan and Gore, and there were if memory serves some 10,000
similar overvotes in Duval County. Taking the intention of the voters
into account, it is clear that Gore won Florida by 30,000 voters or so,
even without going into the "undervote" and tea-leave-reading
interpretation of chads.

To appreciate the significance of this "overvote," it is useful to
remember that punch-card technology is a horse-and-buggy, pre-20th
century technology which most people are unfamiliar with. Many voters
did not understand that you could not correct a mistaken punch simply by
punching for someone else.  This is especially so because the voting
machine is presented to the voter as a "black box." The voter does not
see the card on which the votes are registered as they are voting. It is
hidden behind a rubber strip. In virtually all modern machines and user
interfaces, everything from computerized forms to ATMs, the design
itself accommodates this instinctive kind of correction, or voids the
operation with appropriate error messages and instructions to the users.

Inevitably, the confusion and mistakes created by these ballot layouts
would be most prevalent among the less well-educated, the less literate,
the poorer strata of the population, especially Blacks and
immigrants. The Florida state and national exit polls confirm that
--with the possible exception of the Miami Cubans-- these groups voted
*overwhelmingly* for vice-president Gore. And extracting from such
"overvotes" a good idea of the intent of the voters is a simple matter
of statistical analysis. Look to see how many double votes were for
Buchanan/Gore and (in Duval) for Gore/page 2 candidates; do that for the
other candidates also, and apportion the double votes according to the
proportion of single, valid votes in those precincts.  So that, for
example, Gore/Buchanan were in a 9 to 1 ratio in a given precinct, and
there were 10 such "overvotes," 9 would be allocated to Gore and 1 to

Unless you are willing to do the state election over, that is the
fairest and most rational way to compensate for the distortion of the
intent of those voting created by election officials. This entirely
reasonable procedure was, needless to say, laughed out of court by the
"honorable" judges. No you can't do the election over even if election
officials botched it so thoroughly that what everyone knows was a
several tens of thousands of votes margin for one candidate disappeared;
and no, you can't adjust the count even if science shows that
statistical techniques are in fact the way to get a more accurate
picture of the true intent of the voters than magnifying glasses to
examine pregnant chads.

On top of that, in at least three instances, Republicans were allowed
to, in effect, stuff the ballot box. In two counties, Republican
functionaries were secretly given privileged access to requests for
absentee ballots, and allowed to look up and fill in the voter
registration number of the people involved, a state law requirement for
obtaining such a ballot. This was a "courtesy" that Democrats and
independents were not afforded and that was in specific, explicit
violation of state law.

According to the county supervisors of elections involved, this was the
first time in memory such an outlandish procedure had been followed.

In at least one of these counties [I missed the testimony in the other
one], the Republican operatives had unrestricted, unsupervised access to
the inner sanctum of the board of elections, where records are kept, for
days, and possibly weeks. They could well have taken any number of
Democrat and independent absentee ballot requests and put them in the
trash, and no one would have been the wiser. They could well have
introduced any number of absentee ballot requests for the dearly
departed, again with no one knowing.  It was precisely absentee ballot
shenanigans which a couple of years ago led the state courts to OVERTURN
a Miami mayoral race, and which led to the state legislature tightening
rules for absentee ballot requests and significantly broadening the
grounds for challenging election results.

In addition, immediately following the election night, Secretary of
State and chief state elections officer Kathleen Harris made a public
statement saying that ballots from military personnel overseas did not
have to be postmarked by election day; as long as the ballots were
"executed" [i.e., as long as you claimed to have signed them] by
election day, they would be allowed. Hundreds of ballots in unpostmarked
envelopes were received from members of the Armed Forces following the
election, and in many jurisdictions, they were included in the count,
although Florida law explicitly stipulates that ALL such absentee
ballots MUST be postmarked by election day, and there is no record that
such ballots had even been counted in the past. This suggests there may
have been a post-election "get-out-the-vote" drive by Republican
operatives in the generally reactionary officer caste of the armed
forces. Such a drive would be effective, as U.S. military units are
typically based in a given locality and all members of the unit are
entitled to vote in that locality.

There were a total of some 15,000 votes, mostly Republican (surprise!)
involved in these anomalies; unlike in the case of the 40,000+ uncounted
votes statewide, here it was deemed that no matter how gross the
violation of the explicit, positive provisions of the laws supposedly
necessary to guarantee free and fair elections had been, every single
vote had to be included in official tallies.

It will be obvious to anyone familiar with U.S. politics, that the kinds
of things done by the Bush campaign and its Florida committee, the state
government, as well as the disparate and discriminatory effect of
"innocent" and "well-intentioned" mistakes like the Palm Beach butterfly
ballot, go on all the time throughout the country, and especially in the
states of the slaveholder's Confederacy, such as Florida and
Texas. Indeed, it was less than half a century ago that any Black person
having the temerity to try to vote in much of the South would have been
found lynched the next morning.

But the shameless, conscious, organized and systematic campaign by
Florida officials to deny Blacks the right to vote in order to steal
Florida's presidential electors --and the federal election-- for the
Florida Governor's sibling, it seems to me, marks a new low in
post-Vietnam War bourgeois elections. It represents a major escalation
of the attack on a fundamental conquest of the civil rights movement,
the right of Black people to vote. Not for nothing did Malcolm X make
"The ballot or the bullet" a central theme of his speeches in the last
year and a half of his life. True, undoubtedly every single thing that
has been done in Florida has been done in other places in the United
States. But their combination, and especially the brazen refusal to
COUNT THE VOTES is astonishing, even by the normal American --or, to
avoid any possible misunderstanding, the normal United Statesian--
"banana republic" standards.

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