COUP WATCH: Racial Voting Rights Violations Also Crucial In Florida

by Paul H. Rosenberg Saturday, Nov. 11, 2000 at 6:58 AM
rad@gte.net

Minority voters suffered voting rights violations in a number of Florida counties that might well hold the key to the presidential election. Those affected include Puerto Rican voters in Orlando, as well as Haitians and blacks in Miami, West Palm Beach and elsewhere. Problems of minority voting rights in Florida have barely begun to be examined.

errorCOUP WATCH: Racial Voting Rights Violations Also Crucial In Florida

Marginalized Again?

Theyve been overshadowed in the national media spotlight by the notorious buttefly ballot in Palm Beach County, but minority voters suffered voting rights violations in a number of Florida counties that might well hold the key to the presidential election. Those affected include Puerto Rican voters in Orlando (many retirees from New York), as well as Haitians and blacks in Miami and West Palm Beach. Other counties have problems as well, though not yet as well documented.

Writing in the New York Daily News today, Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzales wrote that, Evidence is mounting that some people were discouraged, intimidated and even prevented from voting. His is one of the few voices raised to point to the racial problems involved.

The earliest allegations surfaced almost immediately, but have been largely ignored in the corporate media. On Wednesday the NAACP said it had evidence of a pattern of blacks being preventing from voting, and called on Attorney General Janet Reno for an investigation into numerous election irregularities.

Examples cited included one polling place where black voters were turned away because of an alleged ballot shortage, while others received inoperable ballot cards, and still others were disqualified by election officials who claimed a mismatch between their race and official voting records. The NAACP also cited instances of sheriff's deputies demanding identification from black men, then refusing to let them vote based on the claim that they were convicted felons.

NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond said, These things suggest a pattern of deliberate attempts to suppress the level of African American votes in this important state according to Reuters.

The assumption is that black voters are mainly Democratic voters. It could be 100 votes. It could be several thousand. I don't want to blame anyone. But you have to ask yourself: who would profit?

The NAACP also called for Justice Department investigatons into complaints of voting irregularities in Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey and New York. None of these states had presidential races close enough for the outcome to be changed, but voting rights are vested in the people, not the politicians--a point that the Bush campaign and the corporate media seem to have entirely forgotten.

The Orlando Puerto Rican community is the fastest-growing in the country; all are native-born U.S. citizens immediately eligible to vote.

Evelyn Rivera, the vice chairw of the Orange County Democratic Party, told Gonzales that Hispanics began calling her early Election on Day with complaints voting problems in Orange and Seminole counties. These included demands for two pieces of ID from voters whose names werent on the voting roles, instead of requiring one piece of ID and signing an affidavit, as required by Florida state law. Others complained of being sent from polling place to polling place searching for their names on the rolls, rather than being allowed to follow this same, proper procedure. In addition, monolingual Spanish speakers who were unfamiliar with the Florida ballot reported that poll workers urged them to vote for Bush--a serious violation of election law punishable by imprisonment.

The complaints were so numerous that a complaint was called in to the Justice Department around 2 p.m. on Election Day, well before anyone realized how close or crucial Floridas vote would be. Trini Quiroz, identified by Gonzales as another Hispanic community leader in Orlando made the call to file an official complaint that Puerto Rican voting rights were being denied.

Quiroz has about 200 names of people who were denied the right to vote, according to Gonzaless report. His source is Juan Figueroa, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which flew a team of its lawyers to Orlando yesterday to begin gathering affidavits for a civil rights complaint.

Gionzales also cited numerous calls revieved by Samedi Florvil, head of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami, from new Haitian voters saying that some election officials tried to tell voters whom to vote for.

These reports appear to be only the tip of the iceberg, however. It appears there may well be a pervasive racial double-standard operating throughout Florida, which only becomes apparent when it is particularly extreme, or when those victimized have the opportunity to compare notes. This appears to have been the case with students from predominantly-black Florida A&M University, who staged a protest at the state capital in Tallahassee. Many of them were apparently denied ballots because their drivers liscence addresses didnt match their residences--a common situation with college students. All in all, the problems of minority voting rights in Florida have barely begun to be examined.

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This article draws on a number of different news sources, the most detailed of which is the story by Juan Gonzales, linked to below.