Friday, September 24, 2004

Bullies at the Voting Booth | Anne-Marie Cusac | October 2004 issue

Bullies at the Voting Booth | Anne-Marie Cusac | October 2004 issue:
"What if Republican shenanigans tip the election? Many members of the media are looking at the dangers voting machines may pose to the integrity of the national election. Others are wondering whether voters may be disenfranchised by use of faulty felon lists, as happened in Florida in 2000. But there is another danger: Republicans may use a variety of tactics to suppress the vote of racial minorities in swing states. These tactics could determine control of the White House or the Senate.

In August, the Zogby International poll raised the number of battleground states from sixteen to twenty. In those states, notes John Zogby, 'the pounding has been relentless.'

Zogby was referring to negative ads, but the sanctity of the vote is also taking a pounding. In some states, Republicans are threatening to conduct widespread vote challenges in heavily minority areas. In others, recent events suggest that poll workers may wrongly turn away voters. In still others, new laws passed or enforced by Republicans have erected hurdles to trip up the minority vote. And on Election Day itself, say advocates, Republicans may direct numerous tricks at Democratic districts in an effort to confuse or frighten voters.…"

The state that started it all in 2000 is no stranger to controversy this election. In July, The Miami Herald revealed that the state issued faulty felon purge lists containing the names of 48,000 people it said were ineligible to vote. Among these were 2,100 who actually were eligible voters. Many of these people were African American Democrats. The list of 48,000 also contained only sixty-one Hispanic names. (Because of Florida's large Cuban population, the Hispanic vote in Florida is predominantly Republican. The Florida African American vote, on the other hand, tends to be heavily Democratic.)

In mid-August, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert revealed that the state was investigating get-out-the-vote drives among blacks in Orlando by sending armed police officers into the homes of citizens who had filed absentee ballots. Most of these citizens were African American, and many were elderly.

And in Florida's late August primary, representatives from People for the American Way saw poll workers turn back registered voters who neglected to bring their IDs. "Under Florida law," noted The New York Times, "registered voters can vote without showing identification."

But there's a lot more going on in the state, according to Alma Gonzalez, spokeswoman for the Voter Protection Coalition in Florida and special counsel to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "We keep hoping that they've learned from 2000," but early indications are that they haven't, she says. "When some of our members have gone to early voting or to register to vote, they're being asked if they're citizens of the United States." Gonzalez says she has heard from "about half a dozen people, all of them in South Florida," who approached the polls as part of the early election only to be asked their citizenship. And it's not poll watchers who are asking, says Gonzalez. It's "the poll workers, the duly deputized election officials."

Registered voters, Gonzalez points out, have already attested to their citizenship in their registration forms. "They cannot ask you your citizenship at the polling place. It's unlawful," says Gonzalez. "When that question is asked of you" based on your skin color or the fact that you have an accent, "it is not intended to ensure that you're complying with the law. It's intended to suppress voters."

And, even though public attention to the faulty felon voter purge lists led the Florida government to say belatedly that it would not use them this time, the word has traveled slowly. "We are still getting reports from people when they go to vote in different parts of the state," says Gonzalez. "Apparently, there are still inaccuracies."

Then there's the provisional ballot crisis. In Florida in 2000, many people who attempted to vote found that they were not on the rolls, even though they had registered. This is the reasoning behind the provisional ballot requirement in the federal Help America Vote Act. If a voter is wrongly removed from the rolls in the future, he or she should be able to file a provisional ballot. Most states interpret this part of the act as allowing provisional ballots as long as the voter files them in the correct county.

Florida is a little different. Rather than the correct county, voters must submit their provisional ballots to the correct precinct. "This will disenfranchise thousands and thousands of voters," says Gonzalez.

So the AFL-CIO is suing Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, along with two election supervisors from areas of Florida that have seen some of the largest population increases, and some of the most marked changes in precinct lines. The precinct requirements "impermissibly abridge the right to vote," the AFL says.

How intentional is all this on the part of Florida officials? "They're all intentional," Gonzalez says. "People didn't do these things in their sleep." Then she qualifies the point, saying the real question is, are they intentionally trying to suppress voter turnout? "I'm not going to make that allegation," she says. "I know what the result is." And, she points out, under the Voting Rights Act, the issue is not whether you intended to disenfranchise people, but what is the result. "These election schemes and the conduct of these officials are undermining" the rights of people to vote.
con·cept: Bullies at the Voting Booth | Anne-Marie Cusac | October 2004 issue