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The ghost of Bush v. Gore still haunts black community…

December 18, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

(Akiit.com) This week marks the 10th anniversary of arguably the most significant voting controversy to come before the Supreme Court in modern time: Bush v. Gore. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision that the Florida statewide ballot recount violated the constitution brought an abrupt end to the 2000 presidential election contest.

Republican candidate George W. Bush went on to secure the state’s electoral votes and the presidency by a slim margin of 537 votes. The court’s intervention in Florida’s recount battle raised some unsettling questions about American democracy and prompted many Americans to look more closely at issues of voting rights and election administration in a way they never have before.

For black voters, Bush v. Gore is a stark reminder of the outdated voting equipment that led to many rejected ballots in our communities. Old punch card machines produced ballots with “hanging chads” and lever machines often malfunctioned resulting in long lines or other irregularities.

George Washington University Law School Professor Spencer Overton observed that in the 2000 presidential election, African-Americans made up only 16 percent of the voting population in Florida but cast 54 percent of the ballots that were ultimately rejected in automatic machine counts. Ultimately, the Florida recount battle forced many to look more closely at the way that we cast our ballots and eventually prompted Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requiring states to update and modernize their election equipment. Although some problems remain, many black voters are able to cast ballots on machines that are far superior to those that prevailed during the 2000 presidential election.

In looking back at Bush v. Gore, we are also reminded of the very troubling purge of suspected felons from Florida’s voting rolls. In the lead up to the November 2000 presidential election, Florida hired a private company to survey the state’s voter rolls to identify “probable” and “possible” felons. The company produced a list of 42,389 individuals that was then supplied to counties around the state.

Many counties accepted the list at face value and immediately struck voters from the rolls without providing them notice. Thousands of eligible voters with no criminal conviction were entangled in the sweep. The evidence showed that 44 percent of those removed from the rolls as a result of the purge were African-American though they made up only 11 percent of Florida’s voters at the time.

One of those impacted by the unreliable vote purge was Clarence Mayville, a black Army veteran who was not allowed to cast his ballot after being told that his name appeared on a list of suspected felons. Four months after the election, he received a letter confirming that he had no criminal record. The impact of the purge on the Florida vote count was substantial. But troubling purges of this kind remain today and have been proven inaccurate and error-laden.

Recount battles continue and serve as a powerful reminder of the problems that persist in the way we conduct our elections. Following the recent 2010 midterm elections, there were reports all throughout the country of candidates unwilling to concede and more candidates pushing for recounts in close contests. Also, more and more courts are citing to the Bush v. Gore ruling issued by the Supreme Court as precedent though the Court indicated that its opinion was “limited to the present circumstances.” From the most recent Alaska Senate race involving write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski to the dramatic recount battle during the 2008 Minnesota Senate race between former Saturday Night Live alum Al Franken and Norm Coleman, recounts have become a hallmark of American elections.

While recounts raise the potential that election results will not be certified for weeks, they also can help expose persisting problems in the way we cast and count ballots in our country. black voters, often subject to purges and other discriminatory voting practices, may benefit from efforts that aim to ensure that every vote is counted.

The ghost of Bush v. Gore and the 2000 presidential election recount battle continues to haunt American democracy. While we have witnessed progress since 2000, problems remain. Our voting system still has kinks that need to be resolved, inaccurate vote purges continue and recounts have become ever more commonplace. There is still work to be done to perfect and refine our political process to ensure that every vote counts.

Written By Kristen Clarke


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