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African American Vote: Election Irregularities on November 7, 2000 , 15
FEB 15-FEB NBA National Bar Association Magazine 18- (January/February,
Civil rights organizations have received complaints of widespread
denial of the right to vote, affecting minority voters and
predominantly-minority precincts, in Florida and elsewhere in the
country. Some of these complaints were presented at NAACP field hearings
November 11 in Miami, at which National Bar Association member Thomasina
H. Williams, Esq. of Williams & Associates, P.A., testified. These
hearings were the first step in an effort to make a public record of the
reports of voting irregularities experienced by African Americans and
other citizens who attempted to vote, and to ascertain the extent of
The information gathered by civil rights organizations, including the
NAACP, details allegations of several forms of outright denial of the
right to vote, as well as intimidation and barriers that prevented or
discouraged voting. Complaints include the following types of
disenfranchisement: alleging serious violations of the United States
Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act and the National Voter
Registration Act, as well as Florida election law and Florida civil
VOTERS TURNED AWAY AT THE POLLS
Minority voters who have been registered for many years and who have
voted in the past, were told when they appeared at their polling places
that their name was not on the precinct list. Some minority voters said
they were turned away because they did not have photo identification,
even though Florida law provides that registered voters without photo
IDs may cast "affidavit ballots".
Reports indicate that in some counties, minority voters were asked
for a photo ID while white voters were not.
Some minority voters claimed that they were not allowed to vote even
though they arrived at the polling place with both their voter card and
a photo ID.
Voters who did not appear on the voting list or have a photo ID
reported that they were shunted into a "problem" line, where
they waited for long periods of time after being told that election
officials were trying to telephone headquarters. However, because phone
lines were jammed and many of these calls never went through, some
voters were left waiting for hours and still did not get to vote, other
voters became discouraged and left without voting.
Some voters told of being sent from polling place to polling place,
with no real effort to determine where they actually would be permitted
to vote. Some claimed to have been turned away from not just one, but
three or four polling places.
Registered voters reported being denied the right to vote because of
minor, immaterial discrepancies in their names as they appeared on
registration lists and in their proof of identification--such as their
use of middle initials. Voters who were turned away said that they were
not offered affidavits or challenge ballots.
Large numbers of minority voters who registered before the October
10, 2000 deadline under Florida law did not receive their voting cards
before November 7. When they appeared at the polls, they were told they
were not on the voting list and were not permitted to vote.
POLLING PLACES MOVED WITHOUT NOTICE
Witnesses also reported that one, and possibly more, polling places
were moved without notice to the voters and without the placement of a
sign at the site, as required by Florida law. As a result, the minority
voters served by this polling place either had to overcome the barrier
of locating their new polling place on their own (telephone calls to
election officials were either not answered or not helpful) or were
denied the right to vote because they could not locate their polling
INTIMIDATION, THREATS AND HARASSMENT OF AFRICAN AMERICAN VOTERS
Witnesses reported police checkpoints or police stops of voters in
the vicinity of several polling places in African American
ABSENTEE BALLOT IRREGULARITIES
Voters who requested absentee ballots alleged that they did not
receive them and that they then were not allowed to vote when they went
to the precinct in person on election day.
FAILURE TO PROVIDE OR ALLOW ASSISTANCE
Many Haitian American voters requested the assistance of a volunteer
Creole/English speaker, who was willing to translate the ballot for
those with limited English proficiency, but were denied such assistance.
As a result, many Haitian American voters may have been denied the right
DEMOCRACY DENIED: THE TRUE EQUAL PROTECTION VIOLATION
When taken together, the allegations of exclusion and intimidation
that civil rights investigations have uncovered so far show a pattern of
disenfranchisement of large numbers of minority voters in several
counties in Florida. The equal protection rights of African American,
Haitian American and Hispanic voters who tried to vote, and who made
heroic efforts to overcome barriers to their legitimate political
participation, were denied in this election.
THE NATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION RESPONSE
Mindful of these problems, the National Bar Association responded
promptly, forming an Election/Voting Rights Task Force co-chaired by
David Honig and Thomasina Williams. The task force prepared and filed an
Amicus Curie brief in Bush v. Gore (U.S. Supreme Court, No. 00-949).
The NBA's brief did not urge a particular outcome. Instead, it
attempted to place the issues in the case in their historical context.
The brief expressed the NBA's view that the contentions of those
favoring the termination of a count of legally cast votes are open to a
skepticism informed by the history of African America's journey to the
The NBA described how the nation has endured a history littered with
abhorrent disenfranchising tricks and devices. Today's failure to tally
and record legal ballots is the ill-begotten child of generations of
disenfranchisement schemes, including literacy tests, poll taxes, white
primaries, and an array of other voter disqualification devices that
discouraged or prevented otherwise eligible Americans from casting their
Declaring that these disenfranchisement techniques "cast a long
shadow over this case," the NBA urged the Court to "hold to
the most exacting burden of persuasion anyone who seeks to prevent the
tallying and recording of legally cast votes."
Finally, the NBA observed that "[o]ur system has stumbled when
an election case arrives in any court. Consequently, this Court would
perform a valuable public service by drawing attention to the many
non-controversial, nonpartisan, race-neutral standards and procedures
available to a nation seeking to heal itself and make more perfect its
union." The brief did not seek the Court's endorsement of
particular reforms, but asked only that the Court commend several of
them to legislatures, agencies and the bar for consideration.
The brief contained descriptions of a number of the potential
election reforms, which have been developed by the NBA's
Elections/Voting Rights Task Force.