GEORGE E. CURRY: Beyond the Voting Rights Act
by George E. Curry
June 29, 2006
Civil rights leaders are correctly focusing on the hijacking of proposals to renew the Voting Rights Act by a handful of Southern Dixiecrats posing as Republicans. This is especially egregious considering President Bush, Republican leaders in the House and Senate as well as a clear majority of the members, both Democrats and Republicans, have expressed support for renewal of the landmark legislation. Allowing the Democrat-turned-Republican minority to hold the legislation hostage, even temporarily, represents a failure of leadership on both sides of the aisle.
But there is something even more sinister than Dixiecrats acting like they're still fighting the Civil War the deliberate campaign to nullify ballots cast by African-Americans. After all of the voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, if this scheme is not taken on, it wonÃt matter whether African-Americans vote in national elections or enjoy the protection of the Voting Rights Act.
This point was brought home by Greg Palast, an investigative reporter for BBC Television and the Guardian newspapers, at the recent Rainbow/PUSH national convention in Chicago. In both his public speeches and his latest book, Armed Madhouse, published by Dutton, Palast recounts in excruciating detail how disqualified ballots, most of them cast by African-Americans, were enough to have easily defeated Bush had they been counted.
In his book, Palast notes that CNN's 2004 exit polls broadcast after midnight Election Day, showed John Kerry defeating Bush among women voters by 53 percent to 47 percent. Among men, Kerry defeated Bush 51 percent to 49 percent.
So here is your question, class: What third sex put George Bush over the top in Ohio and gave him the White House?
Answer: the uncounted.
Palast explains it this way: The nasty little secret of American democracy is that, in every national election, ballots cast are simply thrown in the garbage millions of them. Most are called spoiled, supposedly unreadable, damaged, invalid. They just don't get counted.
And the consequences are disastrous.
In Ohio, there were 153,237 ballots simply thrown away, more than the Bush victory margin, Palast writes. Ã¬In New Mexico the uncounted vote was five times the Bush alleged victory margin of 5,988. In Iowa, BushÃs triumph of 13,498 was overshadowed by 36,811 votes rejected.Ã®
Officially, 1.8 million uncounted votes were reported to the federal ElectionÃs Assistance Commission. That would be bad enough, but Palast reports that those are only partial numbers and the final figure exceeds 3 million. This massive political disenfranchisement is carried out in four basic ways:
1) Provisional ballots allowing voters to cast votes that are to be counted later, provided that they can be verified. "Republicans won by the rejection of provisional ballots that were cast in Democratic precincts." The author says 1,090,279 provisional ballots were tossed out.
2) Spoiled ballots created when writing is too light to be read or the card is not punched hard enough, sometimes creating "hanging chads." Discounted votes: 1,389,231;
3) Uncounted absentee ballots 526,420 in 2004.
4) Barred voters "There's the purge of felon voters whose only crime is VWB, Voting While Black," Palast writes.
To see how these denials changes the margin of victory or defeat we only need to look at the 2000 Florida results.
"Black folk cast 54 percent of the 179,855 ballots spoiled in Florida in that election," Palast observes. "Given the nearly unanimous support for Democrats among those Black voters, candidate Al Gore undoubtedly was the choice of the vast majority of those votes thrown in the spoilage bin. Indeed, if we can calculate, with high-accuracy, that Gore's total vote in the state would have been higher by 77,000 if all spoiled votes had been tallied Ã± in a race officially giving the presidency to Mr. Bush by 537 votes."
In 2004, it was the same story but a different state, this time Ohio. The uncounted votes in the Buckeye state came to 239,127. Bush's margin of victory was 118,599. In both Florida and Ohio, the secretary of state Ã± the person responsible for overseeing the election was co-chair of Bush's presidential campaign, representing a clear conflict-of-issue.
During the last presidential campaign, Palast got a hold of a GOP purge or challenge list used to depress the Black vote. The list was compiled from predominantly Black zip codes and the would-be voters were guilty of one thing, as Palast pointed out voting while Black.
Yes, it's crucial that we renew the Voting Rights Act. But our work must not stop there. We must make sure that once we do vote, it counts and is not used as part of a scheme to rig the election.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com. To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.