'The Militant' on the U.S. elections

Jose G. Perez jgperez at SPAMnetzero.net
Mon Dec 25 20:23:12 MST 2000


    Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the only votes that count
in electing the president are its own, and public attention has begun to
turn elsewhere, The Militant, newspaper reflecting the views of the U.S.
Socialist Workers Party, has finally seen fit to comment on the outcome of
the U.S. elections.

    The most astonishing thing about The Militant's coverage is that,
contrary to just about everyone else in the United States who has a lick of
sense, the Militant fails to see that Al Gore won the Florida presidential
contest, in the sense that he had the support of more of the people that
went out to vote that George W. Bush.

    Instead, incredibly, the Militant echoes the charges made by the
Republicans against Gore:

    "When the November 7 vote total in Florida turned out to be close enough
to require an automatic machine recount, the Gore camp began looking for a
way to steal the election from Bush. Gore asked for hand recounts in three
heavily Democratic counties where chances were best that the procedure would
tip the scales in his favor. Out of 67 counties in Florida, Gore asked for
manual recounts only in Broward, Palm Beach, Volusia, and Miami-Dade, where
he won the vote." ("Bush will continue bipartisan antilabor course," by Greg
McCartan. http://themilitant.com/2001/6501/650102.html .)

    There are so many lies and omissions encapsulated in this one statement
that it boggles the mind. Let's consider point by point the FACTS about
Florida's presidential election.

    1) There is simply no question but that Gore had the support of more
voters than Bush did in Florida. Remember that in both the Palm Beach and
Jacksonville areas, mistakes by local election officials led to confusing
ballot layouts that cost Gore tens of thousands of votes.

    2) The counties where Gore supporters asked for hand recounts were the
three where there appeared to be the greatest number of uncounted votes (the
huge undervote in Duval for some reason wasn't reported for several days by
the Republican officials of that county, and Volusia was included in the
recount because that is where "machine errors" on election night at one
point took away 10,000 votes from Gore). And, yes, they were heavily
Democrat counties, and, yes,  the political calculation involved was
transparent. Yet Florida law stipulates the procedures for hand recounts,
and these are that they must be asked for county by county prior to the
certification of results. The local canvassing board then does a hand
recount of precincts representing a 1% sample of the county's votes. If a
significant enough change in the vote totals is detected, then the local
canvassing board is supposed to order a full manual recount. There is no
procedure or mechanism for asking for a statewide hand recount.

    3) Asking for recounts in every county would have been idiotic for
several reasons. In several counties, local canvassing boards had already
decided to do or had completed hand recounts on their own motion because of
concern about tabulation errors or other issues. In quite a few counties,
the number of votes not registered by machines was so small (a few tenths of
a percent) that there would be no way the 1% sample recount stipulated by
law could possibly result in any significant change, and thus asking for a
recount would be a meaningless exercise.

    4) Despite the lack of a mechanism for requesting a statewide hand
recount, the political stance of the Gore campaign and its legal stance in
court was that they were FOR such a recount. And that is, in essence, what
the Florida Supreme Court ordered at the beginning of December, once the
results had been certified, when Gore challenged in court that statewide
certification for Bush. And the Republicans, having demagogically denounced
the "unfairness" of hand recounting SOME counties and not others, were not
in a position to oppose such a recount before the Florida Supreme Court.
That's why instead they focused on the "standards" issue, hoping to tie the
thing up long enough in court so as to run out the clock, which they
eventually succeeded in doing with the help of the Republican majority on
the U.S. Supreme Court.

    5) Statistical analysis (done on behalf of the Miami Herald) show that,
assuming that the 60,000 ballots that did not register a vote in the
presidential race on the machine counts would follow the same pattern of
voting as other ballots cast in those same precincts, counting as few as 5
or 7 percent of those uncounted "no vote" ballots would give the victory to
Gore. And the larger the percentage counted, the bigger the Gore margin
would be.

    6) Another statistical analysis (by the Washington Post), in this case
of the ethnic composition of the population in specific precincts, shows
that the "undervote" was especially concentrated in Black communities. In
Duval County (the Jacksonville area), there were two Black precincts where
one of every three presidential votes were not counted; county-wide, more
than one in five presidential votes were not counted in precincts with 70%
or more Black population; in precincts that were 70% or more white, less
than one in fourteen presidential ballots went uncounted.

    7) Blacks voted overwhelmingly for Gore by about 9-1 nationwide, and 13
to 1 in Florida, according to the  exit polls. This was the single most
concentrated and easily targeted "demographic" of Gore supporters.

   8) About one-third of Florida counties do not use the punch-card voting
machines, but paper ballots read by scanners. In many of those counties,
ballots are checked as soon as the person comes out of the voting booth and
if the machine fails to properly read the vote, the person is allowed to
have that ballot set aside and vote again. In those counties as a whole, the
presidential "undervote" was less than 1% of the total vote. In punch-card
counties as a whole, more than 4% of the votes registered as "undervotes" in
the presidential race.

    9) These disparities, striking as they are, grossly understate the real
magnitude of the discrimination. In some optical scanner counties, the
annulled ballots (both "under-" and "over-" votes) were as low as 0.2%
but there were four rural counties in the "panhandle" where even with this
modern equipment, the annulled ballots were 9% or more, including one county
where 14% of the votes were not counted. As a general rule, the bigger the
percentage of the Black population, the higher the percentage of annulled
votes. (On this, see the Dec. 14 CNN program "Burden of Proof" available on
the internet as a transcript or webcast, and also the New York Times
election 2000 section maps showing votes by county, etc.)

    10) In the Miami area, a gusano mob whipped up by right wing Cuban exile
radio stations and led by Republican congressional aides who flew in from
Washington, succeeded in halting a manual recount in which Gore was gaining.
Dade county has a long history of electoral irregularities centered around
the right-wing Cuban-American mafia; the last Miami mayoral election was
overturned after the Miami Herald documented massive fraud in absentee
balloting.

    11) In Palm Beach county, under intense Republican pressure, the local
canvassing board changed the rules for evaluating the intention of the
voters, leading to far fewer votes being registered than under the previous
policy.

    12) In this presidential election, the Miami Herald has now documented
scores of ineligible people being allowed to vote in Dade county (Miami),
including a dead Haitian who was impersonated by a Hispanic on election day.
The anecdotal evidence presented by the Herald suggests that much of the
illegal voting was done by "Hispanics," i.e., Cubans, while Haitians and
Blacks were targeted by local precinct officials who placed all manner of
obstacles between them and the ballot box.

    13) There are scores of documented cases throughout the state where
Blacks who had registered were denied the right to vote because they could
not be found on voter lists, and were also denied the right to cast an
"affidavit ballot," (unlike, for example, the Hispanic man who impersonated
the dead Haitian in Miami).

    14) There is at least one thoroughly documented case where state police
set up a roadblock checkpoint on a road leading to a Black precinct,
detaining motorists for periods close to an hour while they went through the
nonsense of checking insurance, running the name on the drivers license
through central computers and so on.

    15) There are documented cases where people who were standing in line at
poll closing time in Black precincts were denied the right to vote, contrary
to state law.

    16) Prior to the elections Secretary of State Kathleen Harris organized
a purge of voter registration rolls with the help of a Republican-connected
private company in Atlanta. This purge led to the attempted removal of many
thousands of people from the voter rolls, including some 8,000 people who
were falsely labeled as "felons" by the State of Texas. An examination of
the purge list shows that not only were Blacks listed out of proportion to
their population in Florida, but also out of proportion to the number of
Blacks convicted of felonies in Florida.

    17) The Florida election was run by the state government of candidate
George W. Bush's brother, and under the direct supervision of Secretary of
State Kathleen Harris, who was Gov. Jeb Bush's running mate and chief
political operative. Harris was also co-chair of George W.'s state
presidential campaign and a member of George W.'s slate of Florida
presidential electors. Despite repeated calls on Ms. Harris to recuse
herself, she refused to do so.

    18) On at least 3 separate occasions that come to mind, Secretary of
State Harris was overruled by the courts. In each of these occasions, she
had made decisions whose import was to *prevent* the counting of ballots
actually cast in the election, or refuse to include ballots which had
already been actually counted in the totals. In every case, the courts said
her duty was to make sure that the actual votes were counted and included in
the tally.

    I could go on and on, but why bother.

    The picture and pattern is clear enough. There are three things at work:

    a) The "normal" operation of any mechanism in a racist class society
like the United States, which automatically functions to the disadvantage of
working people and especially Blacks, the elderly, people with various
so-called "disabilities," etc. This is seen most strikingly in the Palm
Beach case, where the decision by a greenhorn supervisor of elections to use
a "butterfly" ballot layout, motivated by a desire to make voting EASIER for
senior citizens, unwittingly wound up giving something like 3,000 Gore votes
to Buchanan and annulling an additional 20,000 Gore votes in that county.
Like the "undervote," the disproportionate Buchanan vote and the "overvote"
were concentrated in Black precincts.

    b) Long-standing practices, especially blatant in the "deep south," to
minimize Black voter participation, such as police harassment, etc.

    In this case, however, that was combined with something else:

    c) A conscious and systematic campaign by Bush operatives in the state
government to prevent Black voters from appearing as registered voters, to
prevent those registered from going to the polls, to prevent those that made
it to the polls from voting, to prevent those that did succeed in voting
from casting error-free, machine-readable ballots, and to prevent the votes
they did cast from being counted.

    Point "c" is especially important. There was MORE here than the
"traditional" discrimination against Black people.

    To understand why, it is important to know a little bit about the local
political background. Gov. Jeb Bush's blatantly racist "One Florida"
initiative which would wipe out affirmative action, and which was announced
a year ago, had stirred a hornet's nest of opposition. This opposition had
been channeled by traditional civil rights forces onto the electoral arena.
As a result, there had been a significant rise in Black voter registration,
and the Bush brothers and Kathleen Harris understood that a corresponding
rise in Black votes would easily tip the state into the Democratic column in
a presidential election.

    All of this is "forgotten" by the Militant, which chooses to overlook
entirely the actual political and social forces involved in the Florida
election dispute. They have followed the lead of the bourgeois press in
putting on blinders, and of outlets like Murdoch's Fox News in echoing the
Republican propaganda that Gore was trying to "steal" the election in
Florida when there is a mountain of evidence that, in fact, it was the
Republicans who not only tried to, but actually DID steal the elections.

    Now, to class-conscious working people, the chicanery that goes on in
bourgeois elections is neither a surprise nor a major concern of ours. These
"contests" are so rigged from the word go that worrying about an exact vote
count once they're over is a little like focusing on who threw a "Big Mac"
wrapper into the ocean in the middle of the Exxon Valdez spill.

    But *this* case is different, because in *this* case, the refusal to
*count the votes* was part and parcel of a campaign to disenfranchise Black
voters by the tens or hundreds of thousands. Gov. Jeb Bush and his political
hatchet, Kathleen Harris, figured that was the ONLY way they could deliver
Florida's electoral college votes to his brother. And, given the history and
politics of the United States, the disenfranchisement of Black people is an
issue of paramount concern to all class-conscious workers.

    The Militant understands this last point, at least in the abstract. In
an article accompanying the one I've cited, they highlight the NAACP's
denunciation of the attack on the rights of Black voters in Florida, and one
of the editorials in the paper urges all working people to "Join in defense
of voting rights."

    Despite that, the Militant did not see its way clear to demanding that
the votes of Florida's blacks that had been discarded as "undervotes" be
examined by hand and included in the election results while this was
actually a "live" issue, and even in retrospect, they do not denounce the
failure to do so.

    How does the Militant justify this? They assert that "For 35 days this
legal maneuvering--with Gore fighting to get a narrow recount carried out
and Bush opposing Gore's moves--was the framework of the post-election
battle."

    It is certainly true that this was "the framework" for the bourgeois
press and the bourgeois politicians. It also became, as the Rev. Jesse
Jackson admitted in a live "chat room" session in the NY Times on the web,
the framework for a time of part of the leadership of the Black community.
After a vigorous start, it downplayed the campaign denouncing the racist
attack on Black voting rights in deference to the Gore campaign strategy of
relying on cretinous arguments about dimpled chads before the courts.

    But the Militant is wrong in viewing what the Gore camp was doing as an
attempt to "steal" the election by trick counting. In fact, what was
involved was a conscious subordination by Gore of his own personal ambitions
to the interests of "the nation," i.e., the ruling class as a whole. Gore
sought to provide the narrowest, most hyper-technical and legalistic way of
recognizing his election victory without bringing into sharp relief what had
really happened.

    The alternative he was trying to avoid wasn't a somewhat broader
recount, which the Gore camp supported publicly and in the courts (as I have
explained, he had no way to even ask for such a recount before the last,
formal "challenge" stage in court to the statewide certification). It was to
launch a political defense of the right of Blacks to vote and have the votes
count in face of the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of Blacks.

    This would have spurred the protest campaign that had been launched by
the NAACP, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and other Black community figures and
organizations. It would have been an attempt to scandalize the state of
Florida and the U.S. legal and political system into following their own
official rules.

    To someone like vice-president Gore, the prospect of relying on working
people against "the interests of the nation," i.e., of his own class, was
unthinkable. I doubt he even considered it for a second, if it occurred to
him at all.

    That's why the Militant's echoing of Republican charges that Gore tried
to "steal" the election, and its lambasting of "factionalism" by the
Democrats is so wildly off the mark. The truth is that Gore and his
operatives were good little boy scouts throughout the whole affair. They
played by gentlemen's rules. They saved all their arguments for the courts
of law, not the court of public opinion. They never even mentioned the
disparity in the rates at which votes from Black precincts were rejected
compared with those from white precincts. That's how they succeeded in
losing a political fight that, in the abstract, one would have thought it
would be impossible to lose in the United States, given its political
culture.

    It is true, as the Militant says (along with nearly everyone else doing
political commentary), that there has been a very notable coarsening of
American bourgeois politics, and a very sharp increase in factionalism. But
the impression one gets from the Militant that all wings of both major
bourgeois parties are driving this is not true. The yahoo wing of the
Republican party, the "Newtites," with their talk-show radio allies, have
been the ones pushing this most aggressively. It represents a visceral
hatred of "the sixties," a desire to put the country in the straightjacket
of the social and cultural mores of 1950s television sitcoms (but without
Cuban band leaders). There is a very definite political character to this
"factionalism" that the Militant seems blind to.

    So while the Militant is undoubtedly right about the "framework" adopted
by the bourgeois politicians and news media, THEIR ground rules, there is
absolutely NO REASON why WE should respect them. It was our job to REJECT
the narrow framework adopted by the bourgeoisie, and instead denounce what
had really happened, and join with the NAACP and Rev. Jackson in demanding
all the votes be counted.

    It is a crying shame that, as far as I know, none of the left groups
that were especially well situated to do this, because they had presidential
candidates on the Florida ballot, succeeded in thinking through the matter
from this class perspective.

    The SWP, for example, had an effective and personable spokesperson in
their presidential candidate, one with a long and creditable history in
Black and working class struggles, James Harris.

    What has he been doing since November 7? Shouldn't he have gone to
Florida, shouldn't he have spoken at the NAACP forums on voting
irregularities? Shouldn't he have tried to gather the facts, report on them
for the Militant's audience, and tried to break through the bourgeois
press's boycott of the real social and political significance of what was
going on, the wholesale disenfranchisement of Black voters?

    I speak in terms of Harris because this article is devoted to analyzing
the SWP's position. But the same thing and even more could be said of
others, and especially the most prominent candidate associated with the Left
in this election, Ralph Nader. Where was Nader while the Bushites in Florida
maneuvered to steal the election by throwing out tens of thousands of votes
cast by Blacks and other working people? Where were Nader's socialist
supporters? Did they try to explain to him the significance of what was
going on? Did they try to get him to make a statement, or take a stance
against this massive disenfranchisement of Florida's Blacks?

    I think Jesse Jackson is right when he makes what is at least an
implicit criticism of Operation Push and other civil rights groups, and, if
I
understood him correctly, himself, for having downplayed, out of deference
to Gore's narrow, legalistic strategy, the real social and political issues
involved. And if that criticism is correct, then I say we on the left, in
the conscious working class movement, must ALSO bear our own part of the
responsibility for the mistake. Because the truth is we didn't even join in
the limited motion towards breaking out of the narrow, bourgeois framework
that did take place initially, and again towards the very end of the
controversy.

    Now, instead of defending the right of Florida's Blacks to have their
votes AGAINST the governor and his brother counted, the Militant devotes a
substantial portion of their article on the election outcome itself to --get
this!-- defending Secretary of State Kathleen Harris, of all people!

    The Militant tracks down a Washington Post columnist I never heard of as
the original source of the Great Kathleen Harris Excessive Makeup
Controversy, and stanchly defends her democratic right to wear as much
makeup
as she wants without being compared to Cruella de Ville.

    The Militant devotes some 350 words to discussing the momentous issue of
what it calls an "Antiwoman assault," followed by another nearly
300 words on the issue of military absentee ballots and Jew baiting.

    This is all well and good, but surely the sleuths that detected all the
filth that floated up from the muck of bourgeois politics around the edges
of this controversy could not have missed the MAIN thing that was going on,
the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters, disproportionately,
perhaps even overwhelmingly, Black voters.

    Nor does the Militant in either its article about the NAACP lawsuit
against voting rights violations nor in its pro-voting rights editorial get
into this point. They write all around it and express all manner of
basically correct ideas, but when it comes to linking them up with what
actually went on during the five weeks following the election, they fall
silent.

    People who recall my controversy with the Militant's position on the
Elián González case will remember that I made a point then that the SWP's
politics had become somewhat erratic, and that the Militant had developed an
unseemly sensitivity to certain
aspects of right-wing propaganda. I mentioned then specifically then how the
Militant had seized on people talking about the issue of "parental rights"
in the Elián case as a pretext to pontificate about how often these are used
as a cover for child abuse and so on. Not to mention, of course, the SWP's
absolutely disgraceful "campaign" against the INS raid that freed Eliancito
and eventually made it possible for him to go home with his dad.

    It seems to me we have here another instance of this same phenomenon,
where the Militant has adapted to right-wing propaganda.

    Certainly the Militant's claim that Gore tried to "steal" the election
in Florida is ridiculous, especially when your remember that Gore had more
voters out there on election day than Bush did. And the "explanation" of it
that the Militant puts forward about partial recounts in four counties shows
only that the SWP leaders have swallowed the lying propaganda of the
Republicans hook, line and sinker, instead of taking the time to thoroughly
investigate and think through these matters for themselves.

    I applaud the Militant's decision to cover the NAACP lawsuit against the
disenfranchisement of Blacks, and join it in urging that all working people
defend the voting rights of our Black brothers and sisters.

    At the same time, I would insist to the members of the SWP that to do
this *consistently*, one has to recognize that the refusal to count all of
the votes in Florida was part and parcel of this attack.

    Supporting the Black community's outrage at not having had their votes
counted in Florida is not only right. It is also the only basis for engaging
in a dialogue with activists about the lessons of the Florida experience.

    Chief among them is that the Democratic Party does not provide a vehicle
through which Blacks or any section of the working people can promote their
interests. When push came to shove, and Gore had to choose between either
explicitly defending Black voting rights, or letting Bush get away with
stealing the election, he chose the latter. His loyalty is to this racist
system, first, last and always. Not only can he not be counted on to defend
OUR rights, he can't even be counted to defend HIS OWN rights when, by doing
so, he would help us. The bourgeoisie should give him a medal for devotion
to their cause, and WE should give him the BOOT.

    The main lesson of the Florida recount is that working people cannot for
one second rely on the Republican or Democrat politicians, nor the courts,
nor government officials, but only on our own organized and mobilized
strength. We need our own political organizations and our own political
representation, not false "friends" like Gore who will stab us in the back
every time.



José








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