The 2000 presidential election ended with allegations of voter fraud and the installation of a president who lost the popular vote. At the time, most of us hoped these troubles were a one-time aberration, and that the 2004 election would have none of these problems.
Unfortunately, current information from places like Florida, Oregon and Nevada leads to the conclusion that democracy is in for another beating.
The problems faced by Florida voters during the 2000 elections are well known. From the butterfly ballot to the felon list, many African Americans and senior citizens felt their right to vote was taken from them in a systematic manner. There are indications that in 2004 the list of those disenfranchised by fraud will be even larger than it was in 2004.
Political parties and politicians try to get an edge wherever they can. Witness the Republican efforts in support of Ralph Nader and the corresponding efforts by Democrats to keep him off of the ballot in states like Pennsylvania. Business as usual? Perhaps. In 2002, the Republican controlled Texas legislature redrew congressional districts years ahead of schedule in order to target seven Democratic incumbents. A dirty trick, but Texas voters are still free to choose who will represent them in congress. The news from other states is worse than that.
In Florida, Glenda Hood, an official appointed by Governor Jeb Bush (relation, but no Texas accent) once again tried to purge alleged felons from the voter rolls.
The 2004 list had on it the names of 22,000 African Americans but only 61 Hispanics. Hispanics in Florida tend to vote Republican. African Americans usually vote democratic, so it is easy to see who would have benefited from the felon list.
Hood’s office has also instructed county officials to disregard voter registration applications when the box marked “are you a U.S. citizen” was not checked, even though the act of signing the statement can also be taken as affirming citizenship. By a three-to-one margin, those rejected were Democratic.
In Nevada and Oregon, things are even more interesting. In those states, Voter Outreach of America, a group headed by Arizona Republican and conservative Christian leader Nathan Sproul is being investigated for election fraud. While running allegedly non-partisan voter registration drives, Voter Outreach of America workers were instructed to destroy all forms marked Democratic.
While dirty tricks can be blamed on both Democrats and Republicans, efforts to disenfranchise voters correlate stronger with the Republicans.
Dr. Wilbert Jenkins of Temple’s history department said that voter disenfranchisement – particularly of African Americans – is by and large a Republican tactic. There are no comparable Democratic efforts to prevent people from voting, he said.
Dr. Jenkins has studied the history of efforts to suppress the vote of African Americans, and has interviewed many people who were prevented from voting in 2000.
The stories from Florida, Oregon and Nevada should bother everyone. I know that there are claims that the Kennedy machine stole the 1960 election by destroying some ballots in Chicago. If true – and there is evidence that it did happen – it was wrong. There is a lot of evidence that many potential voters will not be allowed to have a voice on Nov. 2, and that is criminal.
Free and open elections are what make the United States a democracy. If widespread disenfranchisement is permitted, it will strike at the core of what we think we are as a country. This is an identity already damaged by the revelations of torture from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. After all, we are, or were, the good guys.
We are, or were, the people everyone wanted to be like. If voter suppression is allowed to happen on an even larger scale than in 2000, the damage could take years to undo.
Hopefully enough people will be watching to ensure that it won’t happen this time. If not, the future looks bleak for all of us.
William Lodge can be reached at Wlt1959@aol.com.