Discriminating taste: Report exposes election injustices in Florida


Published June 10, 2001

Much has changed since the November presidential election: The United States no longer funds international Planned Parenthood-style reproductive services, the balance of power in Congress has shifted to the right and then back to the left and Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, once controversial, has slipped back into obscurity. But throughout the past seven months, one thing has remained the same: No one is quite sure what happened in Florida.

Among the most confused must be the thousands of voters whose ballots were mispunched, misread, rejected or otherwise disposed of and those who never even got their hands on a ballot. Busloads of minority citizens were denied entrance to polling places. Many ex-felons who"d earned back their full voting rights were purged from the system. Elderly Democrats given confusing ballots may have unintentionally voted for Pat Buchanan. According to the Washington Post, approximately 170,000 ballots didn"t make it through the vote-counting machines.

After months of hard work and extensive investigations, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights an independent fact-finding agency appointed by Congress and President Bush at last approved a report Friday. The findings were startling.

According to the report, black Floridians were about nine times more likely than their white neighbors to have their ballots rejected. Furthermore, black voters were more likely to have their names appear on the "purge" list (a list that was supposed to consist of ineligible felons) in error. Most voters of all races whose names were purged did not find out about it until election day.

The "block-and-purge" program was another suspicious initiative led by the offices of Florida governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris. According to The Nation, the multi-million dollar project"s goal was to systematically disenfranchise as many felons (and ex-felons) as possible. If Governor Bush wanted, as some are alleging, to fix the election in his brother"s favor, felons made ideal targets for disenfranchisement. First, felons tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic in 1996, an estimated "93 percent of all felons favored Bill Clinton." Secondly, what major political party would publicly speak out on behalf of convicted felons?

The Republican-appointed minority of the Commission said in a statement that it plans to write a dissent to accompany the final report. They maintain that there was "not a shred of substantial evidence" to suggest that black voters were discriminated against.

Other minorities that faced obstacles on election day were non-native speakers of English. Although the law demands that non-native speakers be given extra assistance voting, they were not helped adequately or at all in many cases. Others who tried to register to vote found out on election day that their applications had been lost or contained "errors" and were turned away, left with no chance to right the situation.

Also, there were many more problems with voting machines in poorer counties that cannot afford state-of-the-art voting equipment.

Whether the causes behind Florida"s many presidential election follies were sinister or unconscious, they led to some serious problems. Minorities undeniably suffered discrimination. Antiquated voting machines, confusing ballots and questionable methods for denying the citizens" right to vote all cast serious doubt on the electoral process.