Since November 7, major media outlets have devoted enormous attention to the aftermath of the presidential election in Florida. But one critical aspect of this story has received relatively little attention: the allegations of a pattern of voting irregularities and discrimination against African-Americans and other minority groups that may violate the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Upon request from major civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Justice Department is deciding whether to pursue a federal investigation into allegations of significant harassment of minority voters in Florida and elsewhere throughout the country. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 makes it illegal to intimidate, threaten, coerce or prevent any individual from exercising his or her right to vote.
These are some of the disturbing and highly newsworthy charges that deserve more media attention:
- Charles Weaver, publisher of Community Voice, a Fort Myers African American weekly paper, witnessed “intimidation, harassment and apparent illegal activity” at a polling place he visited. ”There were illegal pollwatchers, threatening people, telling them, ‘I know where you work. You’re going to get fired,”’ Weaver told the Inter Press Service (11/14/00). The same article reported that Tallahassee police set up traffic checks at the entrance to a polling place in a black neighborhood; that police in Newport News, Va., stopped people at checkpoints; and some black voters were turned away from polls in St. Louis for not having voter registration cards, even though registration cards were not required from white voters.
- In an NAACP public hearing held in Miami (C-SPAN, 11/11/00), Stacy Powers, a former police officer who currently serves as news director for Tampa radio station WTMP, spoke of witnessing numerous voting irregularities in her election day travels through city neighborhoods. Powers testified that she saw people being turned away from several polling places in the black community after being told their names were not on voting lists. When Powers reminded poll workers that an individual can legally sign an affidavit and vote even if their name isn’t on an official list, she said, she was ejected from several polling places (Daily News, 11/17/00).
- Miami’s Donnise DeSouza testified that she was denied the right to vote after being shuttled to several polling places and told her name was not on the list. When she checked with the elections board the next day, she said, she found her name was in fact on the list. Many other voters were told they’d been dropped from the rolls as convicted felons, even though they had never been arrested, and that names of black college students who registered this summer never showed up on voter lists, according to the NAACP hearings (Daily News, 11/17/00).
- According to the New York Times (11/17/00), more than 26,000 ballots were disqualified in the largely Republican area of Duval County– four times the total in 1996. The Times notes that nearly 9,000 of these ballots were cast in predominately African-American communities around Jacksonville, which registered support for Al Gore over George Bush at a ten-to-one ratio. (The November 17 Daily News places the number of rejected African-American votes in Duval County at more than 12,000, nearly 60 percent of disqualified ballots.)
- Derek Drake, an editor of the black weekly newspaper Central Florida Advocate, told the London Financial Times (11/16/00) that Haitian Americans and Hispanics, unlike whites, were often asked for two forms of identification. “There was either something of a conspiratorial nature going on or there was mass incompetence,” Drake said. In a recent column for the Los Angeles Syndicate (11/12/00), the Rev. Jesse Jackson noted that ballot boxes in black communities went uncounted, voters were turned away after being told there were no ballots left, and Creole speakers were not allowed to assist Haitian immigrants voting for the first time.
Such exclusionary voting practices are hardly limited to Florida, or to racial minorities. According to a Federal Election Commission report cited by the Center for an Accessible Society, more than 20,000 U.S. polling places fail to meet the minimal requirements of accessibility, depriving people with disabilities of their fundamental right to vote. (Some of their stories are documented by the magazine Ragged Edge Online at http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/1100/1100votestory.htm.)
In New York City, Columbia University journalism students reported that citywide voting irregularities included broken ballot booths, the denial of translation assistance and insufficient instructions given to first-time Russian voters hoping to support a write-in candidate, and the transposing of the Chinese characters for “Republican” and “Democrat” on wall posters at polling places and on columns in ballot machines (City Limits Weekly, 11/13/00).
As Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News noted (11/17/00), “Congress passed the Voting Rights Act specifically to dismantle the Jim Crow laws — including poll taxes and literacy tests — that kept blacks from voting in the South for most of the 20th Century.” Major media should investigate the allegations of fraud, harassment, intimidation and voter profiling in Florida and throughout the country, to determine whether or not the 2000 election included civil rights violations akin to latter-day Jim Crow voter discrimination.
ACTION: Contact major media and request they conduct in-depth investigations into allegations of violations to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
NBC Nightly News, Phone: 212-664-4971 or 202-885-4259
ABC World News Tonight, Phone: 212-456-4040
CBS Evening News, Phone: 212-975-3691, 202-457-4385
For more media contacts, see FAIR’s Media Contact List.