the purges. In the months leading up to the November 2000 presidential
election, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, in coordination
with Gov. Jeb Bush, ordered local election supervisors to purge 57,700
voters from the registries, supposedly ex-cons not allowed to vote
in Florida. At least 90.2 percent of those on this "scrub"
list, targeted to lose their civil rights, are innocent. Notably,
more than halfabout 54 percentare black or Hispanic.
You can argue all night about the number ultimately purged, but there's
no argument that this electoral racial pogrom ordered by Jeb Bush's
operatives gave the White House to his older brother. HAVA (Help America
Vote Act, signed by President George W. Bush on Oct. 29, 2002) not
only blesses such purges, it requires all fifty states to implement
a similar search-and-destroy mission against vulnerable voters. Specifically,
every state must, by the 2004 election, imitate Florida's system of
computerizing voter files. The law then empowers fifty secretaries
of statefifty Katherine Harrisesto purge these lists of
The purge is back, big time. Following the disclosure in December
2000 of the black voter purge in Britain's Observer newspaper, NAACP
lawyers sued the state. The civil rights group won a written promise
from Gov. Jeb and from Harris's successor to return wrongly scrubbed
citizens to the voter rolls. According to records given to the courts
by ChoicePoint, the company that generated the computerized lists,
the number of Floridians who were questionably tagged totals 91,000.
Willie Steen is one of them.
Recently, I caught up with Steen outside his office at a Tampa hospital.
Steen's case was easy. You can't work in a hospital if you have a
criminal record. (My copy of Harris's hit list includes an ex-con
named O'Steen, close enough to cost Willie Steen his vote.) The NAACP
held up Steen's case to the court as a prime example of the voter
The state admitted Steen's innocence. But a year after the NAACP won
his case, Steen still couldn't register. Why was he still under suspicion?
What do we know about this "potential felon," as Jeb called
him? Steen, unlike our president, honorably served four years in the
U.S. military. There is, admittedly, a suspect mark on his record:
Steen remains an African-American.
If you're black, voting in America is a game of chance. First, there's
the chance your registration card will simply be thrown out. Millions
of minority citizens registered to vote using what are called motor-voter
forms. And Republicans know it. You would not be surprised to learn
that the Commission on Civil Rights found widespread failures to add
these voters to the registers. My sources report piles of dust-covered
applications stacked up in election offices.
Second, once registered, there's the chance you'll be named a felon.
In Florida, besides those fake felons on Harris's scrub sheets, some
600,000 residents are legally barred from voting because they have
a criminal record in the state. That's one state. In the entire nation
1.4 million black men with sentences served can't vote, 13 percent
of the nation's black male population.
At step three, the real gambling begins. The Voting Rights Act of
1965 guaranteed African-Americans the right to votebut it did
not guarantee the right to have their ballots counted. And in one
in seven cases, they aren't.
Take Gadsden County. Of Florida's sixty-seven counties, Gadsden has
the highest proportion of black residents: 58 percent. It also has
the highest "spoilage" rate, that is, ballots tossed out
on technicalities: one in eight votes cast but not counted. Next door
to Gadsden is white-majority Leon County, where virtually every vote
is counted (a spoilage rate of one in 500).
How do votes spoil? Apparently, any old odd mark on a ballot will
do it. In Gadsden, some voters wrote in Al Gore instead of checking
his name. Their votes did not count.
Harvard law professor Christopher Edley Jr., a member of the Commission
on Civil Rights, didn't like the smell of all those spoiled ballots.
He dug into the pile of tossed ballots and, deep in the commission's
official findings, reported this: 14.4 percent of black votesone
in sevenwere "invalidated," i.e., never counted. By
contrast, only 1.6 percent of nonblack voters' ballots were spoiled.
Florida's electorate is 11 percent African-American. Florida refused
to count 179,855 spoiled ballots. A little junior high school algebra
applied to commission numbers indicates that 54 percent, or 97,000,
of the votes "spoiled" were cast by black folk, of whom
more than 90 percent chose Gore. The nonblack vote divided about evenly
between Gore and Bush. Therefore, had Harris allowed the counting
of these ballots, Al Gore would have racked up a plurality of about
87,000 votes in Florida162 times Bush's official margin of victory.
That's Florida. Now let's talk about America. In the 2000 election,
1.9 million votes cast were never counted. Spoiled for technical reasons,
like writing in Gore's name, machine malfunctions and so on. The reasons
for ballot rejection vary, but there's a suspicious shading to the
ballots tossed into the dumpster. Edley's team of Harvard experts
discovered that just as in Florida, the number of ballots spoiled
wascounty by county, precinct by precinctin direct proportion
to the local black voting population.
Florida's racial profile mirrors the nation'sboth in the percentage
of voters who are black and the racial profile of the voters whose
ballots don't count.
"In 2000, a black voter in Florida was ten times as likely to
have their vote spoilednot countedas a white voter,"
explains political scientist Philip Klinkner, co-author of Edley's
Harvard report. "National figures indicate that Florida is, surprisingly,
typical. Given the proportion of nonwhite to white voters in America,
then, it appears that about half of all ballots spoiled in the USA,
as many as 1 million votes, were cast by nonwhite voters."
So there you have it. In the last presidential election, approximately
1 million black and other minorities voted, and their ballots were
thrown away. And they will be tossed again in November 2004, efficiently,
by computerbecause HAVA and other bogus reform measures, stressing
reform through complex computerization, do not address, and in fact
worsen, the racial bias of the uncounted vote.
One million votes will disappear in a puff of very black smoke. And
when the smoke clears, the Bush clan will be warming their political
careers in the light of the ballot bonfire. HAVA nice day.
(From The Nation, April 30, 2004, and from the expanded
edition of Best Democracy Money Can Buy from Penguin Books
and by investigative reporter Greg Palast. Go to www.gregpalast.com
for more information.)