The 2000 presidential election was an in-broad-daylight assault on both the concept of democracy and its practice in the United States. Democrat Al Gore received 543,895 more votes nationwide than Republican George Bush. Unfortunately, because American presidential elections are not decided by the voters but by an antiquated and anti-democratic Electoral College, that didn’t mean much. Nor did it mean much that a clear plurality of voters in the contested state of Florida went to the polls with the intention of giving that state’s electoral votes to Gore, and with those electoral votes the presidency. The documented chicanery of the president’s brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and his campaign co-chair, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, in combination with the machinations of a Bush-Cheney political machine headed by political czar Karl Rove, created the opening for a U.S. Supreme Court intervention that prevented an honest count of the ballots and installed Bush in the White House.
NAACP President Kwesi Mfume said bluntly, and correctly, that in 2000 the high court “handed over” the presidency to Bush.
The 2004 presidential election saw a modestly less blatant, yet equally concerning, assault. Pre-election manipulation of the registration and voting processes in the key swing state of Ohio by another Bush campaign co-chair, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, made it possible for the Republican ticket to secure an election night “result” that was of dubious legitimacy, and circumstances taht made the ensuing recount an inconclusive exercise in frustration. Thus, Ohio’s electoral votes and the presidency went to Bush.
But Blackwell and his fellow partisans could not hide the reality that, as Lou Harris, the father of modern political polling, explained: “Ohio was as dirty an election as America has ever seen. You look at the turnout and votes in individual precincts, compared to the historic patterns in those counties, and you can tell where the discrepancies are. They stand out like a sore thumb.”
In 2000, the official response to the Florida crisis was as disjointed as it was ineffectual. While Gore aides, Democratic operatives and some union and civil rights leaders pushed back, a lack of urgency, focus and strategy made them no match for Rove and his operatives.
In 2004, it was actually worse. Where Gore and his team had fought, however ineffectively, for an accurate count, Democratic nominee John Kerry conceded and refused to back a recount. It fell to grassroots activists, led by Green Party campaigners and eventually key members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to mount challenges that never attained the media coverage that should have been accorded their struggle.