How the GOP Gamed the System in Florida | The Nation


How the GOP Gamed the System in Florida

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Of the 179,855 votes that were cast but later discarded--either because they contained more than one vote for President or no detectable vote--again it is impossible to know exactly how many were cast by blacks, but statistics make it clear that African-Americans' votes were lost at much higher rates than those of other ethnic groups, involving tens of thousands of votes in total. Those statistics are directly tied to the now infamous and error-prone punch-card voting system.

To read a press release on John Lantigua's special report, click here.

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John Lantigua
John Lantigua covered Central America for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. While at the Miami Herald, he...

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Next year's Florida gubernatorial election--which could pit presidential brother and current GOP Governor Jeb Bush against former Attorney General Janet Reno--is developing into the marquee melee

In four of the counties in the state with the largest black populations--Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Duval--punch-card systems are used. Some 100,000 votes were discarded in those counties, more than half the discards in the state. According to a study by the Miami Herald, eighteen out of the nineteen precincts in the state with the highest rate of discards were majority-black precincts, all of which used punch-card systems. Seventy percent of Florida blacks were forced to use the punch-card system, a percentage higher than other ethnic groups. Subsequently the NAACP sued state officials to end the use of the punch-card system, which they say is used disproportionately in black communities and amounts to disfranchisement of tens of thousands of black voters.

During testimony before the Civil Rights Commission on January 11, Jeb Bush swore that he had no knowledge of or involvement in the staging of elections in Florida. Bush passed the buck to Katherine Harris, who also denied direct involvement in the polling process. What is known is that $100,000 requested by county elections supervisors for voter education--which would have helped voters use the punch-card system and decipher confusing ballots--was deleted from the Division of Elections budget.

Conservative Florida Democrats didn't do much better at overseeing the electoral process. Bob Crawford, state agriculture secretary and a member of the state Elections Canvassing Committee, testified on January 12 that he had heard nothing about disfranchisement of minorities on Election Day--this despite the fact that the NAACP had made headlines with a daylong hearing in Miami on November 11 about such irregularities.

The Florida Elections Commission, a state body charged with investigating voting irregularities, reported to the Civil Rights Commission in January that it had done no investigating because no formal complaint had been received, despite the public clamor by blacks.

On November 16, in the midst of the outcry over the butterfly ballot, the Palm Beach Post quoted Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney, a Republican, as saying, "Voter confusion is not a reason for whining or crying or having a revote. It may be a reason to require literacy tests." Literacy tests for the purpose of screening voters are, of course, unconstitutional.

Although they deny they did anything wrong themselves, these Florida leaders have said they will fix what is wrong with the Florida electoral system. The NAACP, however, is not convinced. Its suit demands that federal examiners oversee elections in specific counties in Florida for the next ten years, including the next two presidential contests, so that another election isn't hijacked.

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