"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Disputed Election of 2000 in Florida, Part I

The 2000 election came down to Florida’s disputed electoral votes. The son of former President George Bush lost the popular vote by 550,000 vote but secured the electoral vote by holding on to a slim lead throughout in Florida despite a protracted dispute about how votes there should be counted. In the end, Gore was to lose Florida by 537 votes. Ralph Nader, a candidate to the left of Gore, won 97,488 votes in Florida.

A confusing “butterfly” ballot in Palm Beach County led senior citizens to select Pat Buchanan when they meant to vote for Albert Gore. Buchanan received 3,407 votes. Even Buchanan admitted that he was entitled to only 300 or 400 of them, as Jewish liberals inhabit the area. The Republican line, repeated endlessly by Rush Limbaugh, was that there and insisted there was absolutely nothing wrong with the layout of the ballot. An unusually large number of ballots were invalidated for various reasons. At first it appeared that this had occurred mainly in areas where large numbers of retirees lived and there were many jokes about aged Democrats not being smart enough to vote properly. It soon occurred that proportionately, the largest number of disqualified ballots were those of African Americans in large urban areas. A scholarly analysis of voided ballots in 1996 revealed that minority voters have much higher levels of voided ballots. Educational level was positively correlated with lower levels of voided ballots. It was also found that large urban counties had smaller levels of invalidated ballots. Fully 10% of African-American ballots in Florida were invalidated; in some counties that number approached 25%. If black votes had only been invalidated at the same rate as the votes of whites, there would have been more than 50,000 valid black votes in the final count.

There was speculation about rigged voting machines and hacking into vote counting programs. In the 2000 Florida elections, the confused results from Volusia County, Florida demonstrated how hackable electronic vote processing systems are systems are. At 10 PM on election night, Al Gore was leading George W. Bush by roughly 83,000 to 62,000 votes. Half an hour later, Gore’s total had fallen by 16,000 votes and James Harris, the Socialist Labor candidate, had picked up 10,000 votes in Volusia County. In that and parts of several other counties, Gore was showing a minus or negative 16,022. Based partly on this inaccurate information, Gore conceded the election and changed his mind after carefully reviewing the data. The press reported that a “faulty memory card” was responsible for the dramatic change. However the best evidence suggests that there were two different uploads using two different memory cards. Unsuccessful efforts were made to find the second card.

Bush had many advantages in Florida from the outset. On election night, Bush cousin John Ellis manned the Fox election desk and spoke with his cousin six times that night. Ellis prematurely called the election for Bush. NBC, possibly prodded by GE CEO Jack Welch, quickly followed, which began the chain reaction of declaring George W. Bush the next president of the United States. His brother JEB was governor of the Sunshine State and his state campaign chairman Katherine Harris was responsible for seeing that the votes were counted fairly. The decision to purge illegal voters from the voter rolls were made before Katherine Harris became Secretary of State. Her predecessor, another Republican, hired a firm to do the job for $5,700. That operator was later fired, and an initial contract was given to a Georgia firm for a fee of $2,317,800.

The successful contractor, Choice Point, has strong ties to the Republican Party. The work was to be done by its DBT (Data Base Technologies) subsidiary, even though the FBI had cancelled its data-handling contract with it due to an officer of the firm’s criminal contacts. In 1998, Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris set in motion the program to scrub the voter rolls of fraudulent votes, particularly felons and the dead. The program was unique in that they hired a private firm in Georgia with strong Republican Party ties to do the work. Eventually costing over $4,000,000 the program was carried out in haste, with few efforts to correct obvious errors. It resulted in unjustly disenfranchising thousands. The computer program used by Database Technologies, Incorporated, eliminated people whose vital statistics were the same as those of known felons. In fact, the program sought possible felons rather than real felons. Five years after the election, an analysis of the Choice Point data suggests that 91,000 innocent Democrats and blacks were stripped of their vote in 2000. Choice Point claimed that it always looked at Social Security numbers, but their work sheets showed that only race was always referenced.

In 95% of the cases, the Social Security number was not checked. Of those purged from the rolls, at least 44% were African Americans. In that election, Blacks voted more than 90% for Gore, and Bush only won by 537 votes. The DBT contract specified that there would be “manual verification using telephone calls and statistical sampling.” Sampling to verify the lists of name to be purged did not occur. The firm may been partly at fault, but the evidence is clear that the State of Florida repeatedly pressed it to produce larger and larger lists by suspending various safeguards. DBT, concerned about acquiring a reputation for sloppy work, protested some of these instructions but ultimately complied. Former felons from other states were stripped of their right to vote even if their former states had restored to them the right to vote. There were two court rulings ordering the Jeb Bush to give the vote to people whose full civil rights had been restored in other states. Bush refused to obey the orders and insisted that these people pursue a cumbersome process to obtain Florida pardons. A letter from the governor’s office verified that this was the case, but the original copy later turned up missing, and an altered version of the original was found in the files. ABC reporter Dave Ruppe discovered the document switch, but the network refused to air the story.
There is no way to prove that program was designed for partisan purposes or to reduce the Black vote. Former convicts who came from states that restored voting rights to them were prevented from voting despite federal law on this point and a decision of the Florida Court of Appeals. They were told it was necessary to obtain clemency in Florida. When the legislature passed ballot reform in 2001, it left the door open for the same abuses in the future. The pre-election purging of the registration rolls provided Bush with his margin of victory. James Baker III, who managed the Republican side of the recount dispute, later told Russian oil moguls that he had “fixed” the Florida vote. It is difficult to determine what he meant, but preventing the full recount and steering the matter to the Supreme Court did loc k in the Bush victory.

In some counties, Blacks and Hispanics were required to produce two forms of identification in order to vote. The law required only one form. Laptop computers were used in some white precincts to facilitate correction of registration problems; they were not used in black precincts. In some areas, police road checks slowed traffic in black precincts, preventing many from voting. In Gadsden County, where 52 % of the residents were black, voting machines were used that had mechanisms that would reject incorrect ballots. Improperly marked ballots could be rejected so that the voter could try again. In this county, however, the reject mechanisms were disabled. In all, Florida did not count 179,855 ballots, and African Americans cast a disproportionately large number of them. The Gore campaign demanded a manual recount in four counties while the Republicans insisted mechanized recounts alone were legal. Political scientist Gerald Fitzpatrick got to the heart of the matter in writing, “During the campaign Republicans claimed to trust the people, but in the post-election battle they placed their trust in machines.” Gore briefly considered calling for a full state recount, but he soon learned that Florida law did not provide for a full state recount. , as it turned out, a Florida judge finally did order a full state recount, which would have been to Gore’s advantage had the U.S. Supreme Court been willing to let a recount take place.

Al Gore never challenged the modification of thousands of absentee ballots by Republicans in Seminole and Martin Counties. Massive voting irregularities in Jacksonville were not challenged and he was unable to do anything about Secretary of State Katherine Harris’s refusal to recount more than a million votes on mark sense cards and sheets even though Florida law required that all votes be recounted in very close elections.

The GOP electoral count campaign in Florida included importing demonstrators to Miami in order to frighten the election judges into discontinuing a hand recount of ballots. In addition, the GOP used members of a Miami Cuban operation to bring a recount to a halt. Many of the imported demonstrators were aides to Republican Congressmen and Senators, and one was a top lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee. Violation of nuisance laws as well as lies and exaggerations might be considered barely legitimate means to obstruct the recount, but the employment of physical intimidation is another sad reflection of the authoritarian tendencies of many of these people. Republican House whip Tom De Lay quickly orchestrated an effort to send 200 to 250 Congressional staffers and Republican operatives to Florida to act as rioters and demonstrators. The Bush campaign spent $1.2 million to take these Republican staffers from Washington to demonstrate and attempt to stop voting recounts in Florida.

Former New York Congressman John Sweeney went to Florida to direct these shock troops, who found their daily marching orders slid under hotel room doors early each morning. The GOP commandos appeared in many places, often with signs telling national Democratic spokespersons to go home. The most serious instance of thuggery occurred in Miami, but another occurred in a Tallahassee library, where Republican operatives broke into a library to prevent a recount. John Bolton, a Republican Congressional staffer was among these operatives, and was later rewarded for his efforts with appointment as Assistant Secretary of Defense for arms Control. Later he became Ambassador to the UN. Matt Schlapp, another of these operatives, became special assistant to President bush for political affairs. The Miami Herald reported more than fifty of these people who rewarded with federal offices for these disgraceful activities. Their greatest success was in staging a near riot in the Miami Dade Court House that helped intimidate the election judges to stop the recount. The other factor influencing the judges was fear of threatened attacks by pro-Bush Cubans. Candidate Bush rewarded these zealots with a big party at the posh Hyatt in Fort Lauderdale and flew Wayne Newton in to entertain the troops. Bush and Cheney spoke to many of their loyalists via telephone during the blowout, joking about their antics.

Secretary of State Harris and her assistants said a “fire wall” had been built between her office and that of Governor Jeb Bush. The governor publicly recused himself from the matter. Harris brought in Dan Schnut, an out-of-state Republican operative, to help her manage the vote count. However, telephone records revealed constant contact between Bush and Harris. Frank Jiminez, quickly resigned as the governor’s acting counsel, so he could be in constant touch with Harris and direct the partisan operations of her office. Five other top Bush operatives temporarily resigned so they could assist Jimenes.

Bush surrogates continually insisted that hand examination of the ballots was illegal under Florida law; that Gore’s request was unprecedented; that recounts in which different counties use different standards was unprecedented, and that the Democrats were systematically determined to prevent military absentee ballots from being counted. The first three charges were completely false but repeated so often that a majority of Americans came around to the view that Gore should give up. With regard to the matter of military ballots; the truth was that the Republicans were systematically and successfully preventing them from being counted in Democratic counties while assuring that they be counted in Republican counties. Secretary Harris ruled that the military ballots need not be postmarked on or before Election Day, which made it possible to round up votes cast after Election Day and send them to Florida. Republicans were able to spin this issue to their benefit by always calling the absentee ballots “military absentee” or “military ballots.” This won elite and press opinion to their side and greatly limited interest in the fact that many of the ballots were illegal for various reasons, including the fact that more than a few were cast days after the election was over.

When New York Times reporters uncovered both inappropriate and illegal activities on the part of Republican congressmen in respect to the disputed presidential election in Florida, the editors all but dismissed the stories, saying that the Republicans had simply “out hustled” the Democrats. In what was at least very inappropriate conduct; one Congressman used military officers to distribute propaganda among military personnel who were Florida residents. Representative Stephen Buyer of Indiana used his position on the Armed Services Committee to obtain from the military the telephone numbers of mail and email addresses of men and women in the services. This was clearly a case of asking military personnel to become involved in electoral politics. The Congressman’s willingness to politicize the military to garner votes provides another illustration of a Republican tendency to resort to authoritarian conduct. The military’s tradition of remaining aloof from partisan politics seemed less important than defeating a liberal. Buyer requested immediate action on his request because he and his allies were going to use it to contact people whose absentee ballots had been rejected because they had not met the requirements of Florida law. The strategy was to defend those who most likely cast Republican ballots while preventing the counting of the same kind of ballots in counties that were heavily Democratic. It worked well, as only 20% of overseas ballots in strongly Gore counties were counted.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

1 comment:

Feather said...

looking forward to part 2! and hoping it will include some nitty gritty regarding how the Supreme Court reached its decision..( something I've always wanted to understand better-if possible)

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About Me

Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!