- Millions of U.S. citizens, including a disproportionate number of
black voters, will be blocked from voting in the Nov. 2 presidential
election because of legal barriers, faulty procedures or dirty tricks,
according to civil rights and legal experts.
The largest category of those legally disenfranchised consists of
almost 5 million former felons who have served prison sentences and
been deprived of the right to vote under laws that have roots in the
post-Civil War 19th century and were aimed at preventing black
Americans from voting.
individuals and officials who are actively trying to stop people from
voting who they think will vote against their party and that nearly
always means stopping black people from voting Democratic.
Mary Frances Berry, head of the U.S. Commission on Human Rights
But millions of other votes in the 2000 presidential election were lost
due to clerical and administrative errors while civil rights
organizations have cataloged numerous tactics aimed at suppressing
black voter turnout. Polls consistently find that black Americans
overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.
"There are individuals and officials who are actively trying to stop
people from voting who they think will vote against their party and
that nearly always means stopping black people from voting Democratic,"
said Mary Frances Berry, head of the U.S. Commission on Human Rights.
Vicky Beasley, a field officer for People for the American Way, listed
some of the ways voters have been "discouraged" from voting.
"In elections in Baltimore in 2002 and in Georgia last year, black
voters were sent fliers saying anyone who hadn't paid utility bills or
had outstanding parking tickets or were behind on their rent would be
arrested at polling stations. It happens in every election cycle," she
In a mayoral election in Philadelphia last year, people pretending to
be plainclothes police officers stood outside some polling stations
asking people to identify themselves. There have also been reports of
mysterious people videotaping people waiting in line to vote in black
Minority voters may be deterred from voting simply by election
officials demanding to see drivers' licenses before handing them a
ballot, according to Spencer Overton, who teaches law at George
Washington University. The federal government does not require people
to produce a photo identification unless they are first-time voters who
registered by mail.
"African Americans are four to five times less likely than whites to
have a photo ID," Overton said at a recent briefing on minority
Courtenay Strickland of the Americans Civil Liberties Union testified
to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last week that at a primary
election in Florida last month, many people were wrongly turned away
when they could not produce identification.
BLACKS' BALLOTS REJECTED
The commission, in a report earlier this year, said that in Florida,
where President Bush won a bitterly disputed election in 2000 by 537
votes, black voters had been 10 times more likely than non-black voters
to have their ballots rejected and were often prevented from voting
because their names were erroneously purged from registration lists.
Additionally, Florida is one of 14 states that prohibit ex-felons from
voting. Seven percent of the electorate but 16 percent of black voters
in that state are disenfranchised.
In other swing states, 4.6 percent of voters in Iowa, but 25 percent of
blacks, were disenfranchised in 2000 as ex-felons. In Nevada, it was
4.8 percent of all voters but 17 percent of blacks; in New Mexico, 6.2
percent of all voters but 25 percent of blacks.
In total, 13 percent of all black men are disenfranchised due to a
felony conviction, according to the Commission on Civil Rights.
"This has a huge effect on elections but also on black communities
which see their political clout diluted. No one has yet explained to me
how letting ex-felons who have served their sentences into polling
booths hurts anyone," said Jessie Allen of the Brennan Center for
Justice at New York University.
Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, which seeks to
ensure fair multiracial elections, recently reported that registrars
across the country often claimed not to have received voter
registration forms or rejected them for technical reasons that could
have been corrected easily before voting day if the applicant had known
there was a problem.
Beasley said that many voters who had registered recently in swing
states were likely to find their names would not be on the rolls when
they showed up on Election Day.
"There is very widespread delay in the swing states because there have
been massive registration drives among minorities and those
applications are not being processed quickly enough," she said.
Copyright © 2004 Reuters Ltd.