October 15, 2003

The Florida Myth

The myth of black voter "disenfranchisement" in the Florida election of 2000 still has life. We still hear about it almost three years later, mostly from Democratic candidates for President, in what amounts to nothing less than demagoguery, given the lack of evidence for such a charge.

The Democrats tried to make it an issue in the Florida campaign for Governor in 2002, and while the voters didn't buy it, giving Jeb Bush a landslide victory, the pernicious claim is still made even by otherwise reasonable people like Joe Lieberman, who is apparently not averse to a good racially motivated pander when it suits the occasion, even if it is a lie.

My question is this: If the Democrats were able to identify even ONE black Florida voter who was prevented from voting, or even one who was "intimidated" by police, voting officials, or anyone else in the 2000 Florida election, don't you think that person would have already been: a) on the cover of Time magazine, b) given approximately 57 out of "60 Minutes", or c) appeared on Oprah for an in-depth interview?

Finally today, an article by Peter Kirsanow, of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, explodes the myth of black voter disenfranchisement. A statement like this is long overdue. The article should be read in its entirety, but here are a couple of excerpts, starting with the most important statement:

There's absolutely no evidence that a single person was intimidated, harassed, or prevented from voting by Florida law-enforcement officials.

Despite claims of rampant police intimidation and harassment, the only evidence of law-enforcement "misconduct" consisted of just two witnesses who described their perceptions of the actions of the Florida highway patrol. One of these witnesses testified that he thought it was "unusual" to see an empty patrol car parked outside a polling place. There was no evidence that sight of the vehicle somehow intimidated the witness or any other voters from casting ballots. There was no evidence that the erstwhile occupant of the vehicle harassed voters. There was no evidence that the empty vehicle was there for the purpose of somehow disenfranchising anyone assigned to vote at that location.

Regarding the list of felons that supposedly systematically barred blacks from voting:

Much has been made of the "felon purge list," i.e., a list of those individuals who, under Florida law, were to be barred from voting due to felony convictions. The list had been prepared to prevent the kind of fraud that had occurred in the infamous Miami mayoral election, in which a number of ineligible felons voted.

The list was inaccurate; it included people who shouldn't have been on it. Thus, the myth holds that the purge list was somehow a tool to deny blacks the right to vote.

But facts are stubborn things. Whites were actually twice as likely as blacks to be erroneously placed on the list. In fact, an exhaustive study by the Miami Herald concluded that "the biggest problem with the felon list was not that it prevented eligible voters from casting ballots, but that it ended up allowing ineligible voters to cast a ballot."* According to the Palm Beach Post, more than 6,500 ineligible felons voted.

On the charge that somehow Governor Bush and Secretary of State Kathryn Harris conspired to "disenfranchise" blacks:

Again, reality intrudes. The incontrovertible evidence shows that by statute the responsibility for the conduct of elections is in the hands of county supervisors, not the governor or secretary of state. County supervisors are independent officers answerable to county commissioners, not the governor or secretary of state. And in 24 of the 25 counties that had the highest ballot-spoilage rates, the county supervisor was a Democrat.

It's time to hold the demagogues to account for this pernicious lie, and get back to honest debate on real issues. Thanks to Kirsanow, we've taken a step in that direction.

Posted by dan at October 15, 2003 12:39 PM
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