African-American Voters in Florida Were Systematically Denied their Voting Rights
I spent several hours this morning watching the NAACP public hearing on the Florida vote on C-SPAN.
Having done so, it is very clear to me that there was a systematic and calculated effort to lessen the Gore vote by denying the franchise to as many African Americans as possible.
The hearing was orderly, well run, and transcribed by a court reporter and was presided over by NAACP President (and former Congressional Black Caucus chairman) Kweisi Mfume. The hearing was much like a Congressional hearing, but without the wordwaste and puffery that usually dominates Congressional hearings,
There were several panels of witnesses, two to four people per panel. The witnesses included voters who were denied the right to vote, NAACP activists who worked the get-out-the-vote effort all day, NAACP phone-standby volunteers who worked the phones fielding election-day complaints, poll workers and news media people. The witnesses were all credible and impressive, their information detailed and often accompanied by notes with names, dates, and places. I would not hesitate to call any of these people as witnesses if I were handling a lawsuit on their behalf.
Witnesses testified that they (and family members and others in their presence) were denied the right to vote because they "were not on the rolls" even though some of them had their voter registration cards as well as identification showing their names and addresses.
This violates Florida law. In many cases, the poll workers who rejected them declined to make any effort to validate their status and told them to"come back later." Some poll workers were sympathetic and attempted to get approval for the voters to go ahead and vote but were denied by "headquarters."
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: Two poll workers testified that they had been instructed by "headquarters" that they should apply "qualification" procedures VERY STRICTLY and if there was the slightest doubt, TO DENY THE REQUEST TO VOTE. They were also told to refrain from giving out any written verification of the refused voters' requests, including affidavits. This is illegal, because the law REQUIRES that any voter whose attempt is challenged be given an affidavit of challenge signed under oath by the poll worker.
And in fact, many of the denied voters asked for an affidavit or something in writing to prove they had attempted to vote and ALL such requests were refused. NONE were given the chance to cast a "challenge ballot" (this is similar to the "provisional ballot" that is used in California when there is a dispute as to whether someone is entitled to vote or not).
Witnesses testified that they and other African American (but not white) voters were asked to provide BOTH photo ID and a current voter registration card, and many who could not do so were denied the right to vote even though the law does not require that the voters present both ID and voter registration cards.
A newswoman who spent all day at various polling places witnessed the above time and time again. When she tried to intervene, she was threatened with arrest. This newswoman (who happens to be white and a former policewoman) accompanied one black voter to SIX polling places as she was turned away time after time because, despite her having a voter card and ID, she was told this was not your polling place.
Finally, she returned to her original polling place and was allowed, finally, to vote. The newswoman testified that at one polling place in Healdsberg County, there were numerous police cars that were stopping African American voters and asking for ID and saying "what are you doing here?" She saw them stop one elderly man after he left the polls, order him to "assume the position" and question him, as he tried to explain he had just voted (and was wearing a button that said "I voted").
When she tried to intervene, she was told to move on or she would be arrested, and when she did so out of fear for her safety, she was followed for several miles by a police car. This newswoman, who is white and a former policewoman, broke down in tears because she was ashamed that she left the scene.
The newswoman testified that she was leaked a list of over a thousand absentee voters by an election official. This was a list of absentee voters who were disqualified for being "felons" (their votes were not counted but they were not informed of the rejection of their vote or the opportunity to challenge it; the Republican commissioner who leaked the list told the newswoman that the instructions were to NOT notify the rejected absentee voters of their disqualification.
The newswoman happened to know one of the people on the list and it is someone she knows has never been convicted of a crime, let alone a felony. Many witnesses testified that people who came in to vote were required to answer a litany of questions even though they were on the rolls and had ID, the questions had to do with whether they had been convicted of a felony since the last time they voted, was their address correct, etc.
Only African Americans appeared to be asked these questions. A police lieutenant testified that a box of ballots was sitting in the police station. Someone called in that it had not been picked up. The police department claimed that they had tried to call the election commission on Friday but nobody answered because it was a holiday. As of now (actually, the hearing was Saturday but C-SPAN aired it this morning), the box is still sitting in the police evidence room, sealed with evidence tape. A minister testified that nobody ever came to pick up the box at his church (a polling place for his precinct) and STILL HAS NOT DONE SO!!
The president of Haitian Women of Miami testified that she was threatened with arrest for attempting to enter the polling booth to help first time Haitian voters who needed translation assistance, and even though she presented a copy of the statute that permits such assistance inside the booth she was told that she would be arrested if she did not leave and the police were actually called.
None of the Creole speakers who asked for Creole ballots (which were printed for the first time this election) were given them and although there were Creole speaking volunteers present to assist those voters, they were denied the right to do so. Handicapped people were able to get into some polling places but the polling booths were not acceptable to them and requests for special ballots or other assistance was denied in African American precincts, according to the witnesses. I could go on...but is it necessary?
These are THOUSANDS of denied voters. Does anyone not know a pattern and practice of obstruction when they see it? Does anyone not see the last gasp of the OLD SOUTH being called upon one more time to put its own man into the White House? Thousands of voters were deliberately and systematically denied their right to vote because Bush's brother and his cronies knew they were voting for Gore.
WHERE IS THE NEWS MEDIA? Why is this damning evidence not on the FRONT PAGE OF EVERY NEWSPAPER IN THE COUNTRY? Why is it being COMPLETELY suppressed on the corporate media television stations and in the corporate print media? Why is the systematic denial of the Voting Rights Act tolerated?
There is no remedy other than to allow EVERY SINGLE DENIED VOTER HIS AND HER VOTE. NOW. And we who have volunteered to uphold justice have the responsibility to do whatever we can to ensure that occurs, whether we volunteer in the legal fights, write letters, emails and faxes, raise or give money, call our news media, call our congressional people, or if necessary, engage in civil disobedience in memory of Martin Luther King, the little girls who were burned to death in a church and every racist atrocity that has been brought back to life by the shame in Florida.
If not now, when? If not us, who? THE RACIAL PROFILING OF THE FLORIDA VOTE IS THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS -- not the delay in crowning King George.
To view the hearing, visit www.cspan.org and type "NAACP" in the search box. Click on the link for "NAACP Public Hearings on Florida Ballot Irregularities."