The Ever Bolder Republican Plan To Keep Black Ballots
Out of the Count
Activist and authorTom Grayman III makes it
clear in the following exclusive BuzzFlash Guest Contribution, that
our recent US elections are just more and more and more of the same.
Republican electoral success depends on the disenfranchisement of Democrats
-- make that African-American Democrats
-- plain and simple. Here and in his new
Ghosts of Florida, a BuzzFlash premium, he details
the who, what, when, where, how and why. As his thoughtful
scrutiny of the electoral process reveals, our democracy hangs in the
* * *
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
By Tom Grayman III
As the drama of the Ohio recount rolls out, we would all do well to
remember two things:
- Half the battle for a fair election is fought before the casting
and counting of ballots even begins.
- The suppression, disenfranchisement, and disempowerment of African-American
voters has been a cornerstone of Republican electoral success for
the last 40 years.
On July 2, 1964, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil
Rights Act. On July 3, 1964, the racial re-alignment of the two major
parties kicked into overdrive. Since then, the African-American community
has been the most predictably loyal voting bloc (of substantial size)
that the Democratic Party has.
Poll after poll shows that most Americans do not agree with the GOP
on most key issues. Their continued strength therefore depends on the
success of their perpetual search for ways to thwart the true will of
American voters each Election Day -- particularly those likeliest to
be Democratic voters, which is to say, African-Americans. And so we
have the increasingly frequent tales of increasingly bold efforts to
strip black Americans of one of their most elemental civil rights. The
most popular stunts include:
- "Ballot security" programs, in which GOP party operatives
pull registration lists and then, focusing primarily or entirely on
black neighborhoods, mail postcards to registered voters. Those which
are returned by the post office -- maybe for reasons as innocuous
as the apartment number is missing from the registration -- are used
in an effort to invalidate those voters' registrations.
- Challenging the eligibility of black voters at the polling place,
which the GOP has learned in recent years is an effective way to dissuade
those voters least committed to the act from persevering until their
votes are cast.
- Misdirectional communications, including flyers, mailings, and
phone calls in black neighborhoods announcing the incorrect date for
Election Day or stating inaccurate and burdensome requirements for
Those seeking to limit the black vote had been dabbling with these
and other methods throughout the 1970's, 80's and 90's -- particularly
in the South -- but on a somewhat ad-hoc and "underground"
basis. The presidential election of 2000, on the other hand, was the
first time since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that a
state government -- in this case, Florida -- had thrown its resources
behind a plan to disenfranchise Democratic -- particularly black --
voters. Such efforts included the now-notorious bogus felon purge and
the efforts to prevent the full recount of "spoiled" ballots,
particularly the nearly 30,000 of Duval County, most of which came from
the black neighborhoods of the city of Jacksonville. It was Republican
Secretary of State Katherine Harris’s success at foiling efforts to
make the true will of her state’s black voters known that helped propel
her to her own 2002 congressional election victory.
Obviously inspired by Harris, Republican Ohio Secretary of State Ken
Blackwell spent the entire second half of 2004 devising schemes to limit
and undermine the vote of his state's citizens -- particularly those
likeliest to be Democrats, which is to say blacks. Such efforts included:
- Reducing the number of voting machines in black urban neighborhoods
to levels below the 2000 election and even the 2004 primary elections,
leading to lines that were in some cases up to 10 hours long. More
than a few voters finding themselves trapped in such lines gave up
and left without ever casting their vote.
- Attempting to reject registrations that had been filled out on paper
that, according to an archaic Ohio law, was not of the right weight
-- a blatant attempt to invalidate tens of thousands of new registrations
pouring in from voter registration groups who had been signing up
predominantly minority and young new voters.
- Exploiting the discretion granted to his office in determining which
provisional ballots would be counted. One of the great failures of
the 2002 Help America Vote Act is that it does not offer guidelines
as to which of the provisional ballots mandated to be made available
should ultimately be counted, allowing officials like Blackwell the
opportunity to screw with the vote with meaningless reasons for rejection
like failing to indicate one’s birthday on the application or voting
in the right county but wrong precinct.
That Blackwell is an African-American is one of the tragic realities
we blacks have had to deal with this election season (actually, he seems
not to be patterning himself so much after Harris as after Clarence
Thomas -- how can I use my power to make life worse for my own people?)
But it also serves to remind us that the motivation for such behavior
is rooted in the partisan advantage it confers upon the GOP, and to
Blackwell (who has made no secret of his political ambitions), party
is thicker than blood -- or conscience.
Meanwhile, Florida proved in 2004 that it wasn't quite ready to give
up the disenfranchisement crown without a fight. First, the state resurrected
its felon purge list, then tried to hide it from the eyes of media investigators.
Once they got access to the list, it was instantly clear why the state
was being so secretive: the list yet again contained the names of thousands
of innocent voters, a disproportionately high number of them African-American
and a disproportionately low number Hispanic (who, in Florida, tend
to vote Republican). It turns out that Governor Jeb Bush had been warned
by a state official before the list was released that it was faulty,
but he, not surprisingly, chose to ignore the warning.
Then, just days before the election, BBC reporter Greg Palast uncovered
what was clearly designed to be a list of predominantly black voters
from Jacksonville whose registrations were being challenged in one of
those ballot security programs. The list was found in the possession
of the state Bush re-election campaign director.
Plain and simple, the GOP has declared war on black voters. The bugle
has sounded for all of us on the left to join the counteroffensive.
Republican hacks shut down the counting of votes in Miami-Dade in 2000
by literally storming the facility. We need to be prepared to act with
similar passion in defense of minority voting rights. And we need to
press our elected officials to get on the ball and address the serious
shortcomings in our elections laws which make the disempowerment of
black voters so easy and inviting. (These shortcomings are detailed
in my new book, Ghosts
of Florida: Making Elections Fair for Blacks).
Everyone who is concerned about the electoral prospects of Democratic
candidates must concern him/herself with ensuring that African-American
voters have full, free, and fair access to the electoral process. The
alternative is to risk permanent dominance by the right.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION