We Wuz Robbed and Election Day

I recently reviewed the short film compilation Ten Minutes Older (2002) and fear that I didn’t emphasize Spike Lee’s contribution, We Wuz Robbed, and its timely relevance enough; although it’s a straightforward collection of talking heads, its subject–the illegal purging of thousands of voters (including a large number of black people) from Florida’s 2000 voting rolls–couldn’t be more relevant four years later.

Although I don’t think voting in general is the most powerful political tool in our personal arsenal of resources, it should go without saying that this particular election deserves every American’s participation. If you’re reading this and you haven’t already voted, let me be the zillionth individual to implore you to do so immediately.

Moreover, I’m simply amazed at the relatively little election reform that has occurred since 2000, as if the nation was quick to forget the hassle until polls once again suggested a close race. Most political commentators agree that voting inaccuracies and irregularities have most likely always been with us in America, but that the razor-thin margins of success have suddenly brought the issue to the attention of the middle class majority.

This article, for example, offers a sobering account of recent voter intimidation, oppression, and suppression–particularly against ethnic groups–that continues to this day. It has been astonishingly deflating to follow voting watchdog news sources the past few weeks as problem after problem continues to surface, and recognize the relative indifference of the national media toward these stories, leaving them for local coverage. Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, one of the few dependable sources of non-corporate, progressive news in this country, has listed a smattering of examples of voter suppression the past few days, to which I’ve added links to a variety of media for further information:

ï Ion Sancho, the supervisor of elections in Leon County in Florida, told the Washington Post, “In my 16 years as an election administrator, I’ve never seen anything like this.” In Florida thousands of students have learned that not only was their party registration switched to Republican but their home address was changed without their knowledge. This means that when they show up to vote at their local precinct, their names won’t appear on the voting rolls.

ïIn Pittsburgh, fliers were handed out on what looked like county letterhead that claimed voting had been extended an extra day “due to immense voter turnout expected on Tuesday.” The fliers said Republicans should vote on Tuesday and Democrats should vote on Wednesday.

ïIn Wisconsin fliers purportedly from a group calling itself the “Milwaukee Black Voters League” told voters, “If you’ve already voted in any election this year, you can’t vote in the presidential election. If you violate any of these laws, you can get ten years in prison and your children will get taken away from you.”

ïIn South Carolina, a letter purportedly from the NAACP warned voters they cannot vote if they have outstanding parking tickets or have failed to pay child support.

ïIn Georgia’s Atkinson County, the Republicans attempted to challenge the voting eligibility of 78 percent of the county’s registered Latino voters. But on Thursday the Board of Registrars dismissed the Republican complaint. The county attorney said, “The challenges … are legally insufficient because they are based solely on race.”

ïIn Ohio, a federal judge has temporarily blocked the Republican Party from challenging the voting rights of 35,000 people ahead of the election. Local election boards were preparing to hold hearings in the next few days to decide on the eligibility of the voters in question. The Democratic Party hailed the decision. The head of its Voter Protection Program said, “The Republican assault on tens of thousands of Ohio voters was an unprecedented effort to intimidate voters, especially minorities, but it has backfired.” But Republican attorneys said the party will now be forced to challenge the voters on Election Day at the polls in order to prevent voting fraud.

ïIn Nevada, fallout continues after it emerged that a group registering voters had destroyed possibly hundreds of ballots of voters who identified themselves as Democrats.

ï The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Bush administration lawyers are now attempting to overturn decades of legal precedence by claiming that only Attorney General John Ashcroft, and not individual voters, has a right to ask federal courts to enforce voting rights set forth in the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

ïAs many as 58,000 absentee ballots have gone missing in the heavily Democratic Broward County in Florida. The ballots were said to have been mailed two weeks ago but many have disappeared. The county is blaming the postal service but the post office denied it is at fault. Now county officials are attempting to get ballots sent out in time to voters.

ïThe newly formed Election Assistance Commission officially announced yesterday that the country will likely have 500,000 fewer poll workers than needed for [today’s] elections. The Commission called on businesses to allow employees to take the day off from work so they could work at the polls.

ïAnd investigative reporter Greg Palast obtained a secret document from inside Bush campaign headquarters in Florida. The document suggests a plan–possibly in violation of the law–to disrupt voting in the state’s African-American voting districts. Two emails, prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director in Washington DC, contain a 15-page so-called “caging list”. It lists more than 1,800 names and addresses of voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democratic areas of Jacksonville, Florida.

The moral in all of this? Other than the dire need for real election reform in a country that considers itself a model of democracy, we should know our rights, support the rights of other voters, and register complaints with poll supervisors, voting rights attorneys, and election monitoring organizations. For a particularly sobering and detailed view, check out the Election Incident Reporting System’s US map of “election incidents” or VotersUnite!’s collection of media stories.

Update: a list of more voting problems today.

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