Monday, July 19, 2004
by Wayne Besen
I usually write about gay issues. But today I must touch on a critical topic that affects all Americans: The fairness and integrity of the 2004 presidential election.
At a time when our nation is fixated on promoting democracy in Iraq, the desecration of democracy may be happening right under our noses in America. Florida, the state that brought us the election fiasco of 2000, seems poised to bring a horror sequel in 2004.
Four years after Florida's voting irregularities traumatized this nation and brought it to the embarrassing precipice, one would think Gov. Jeb Bush, the President's brother, would have done everything in his power to ensure a fair and free election this time.
Instead, Little Bro's motto is: If you can't beat them, purge them.
In Florida, convicted felons can't vote. The state made a list to ban 47,763 such people, mostly democrats, from voting in 2004. Because of the shenanigans of the 2000 elections, civil rights groups wanted to make sure the list was accurate and that no one would be unnecessarily disenfranchised.
A fair request one would think, right? Not so in Bushland.
Afraid of getting gypped again (or is it Jebbed?) the NAACP, People for the American Way, the media and Sen. Bill Nelson, took the state to court. Bush lost and on July 1 had to give up his treasured list. It quickly became clear that Bush had been hiding something.
It turns out that more than 2,100 people still on the purge list - mostly Democrats - should not have been there. They already had their voting rights restored through clemency. This is a huge deal if you consider that George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida by only 537 votes.
It gets worse. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune discovered that out of the entire list, only 61 people were listed as Hispanic - a group that largely votes Republican in Florida, while the purge list contained large numbers of African Americans who overwhelmingly vote Democrat. For some perspective, finding only 61 Hispanic names on a list of nearly 48,000 in Florida is as absurd as finding 61 gay people on a list of the same size in San Francisco.
Having had their scheme exposed, Bush and his lapdog Secretary of State Glenda Hood were forced to purge the entire purge list.
But that's not all. This Little Shop of Election Horrors also includes relatively inaccurate electronic voting machines in largely Democratic counties. To make matters worse, there are currently no printers with these electronic machines to ensure an accurate vote recount in a tight race. If you thought hanging chads were tough to recount, try getting an accurate recount out of thin air.
Sure, mistakes occur and election systems are not perfect. But why in Florida do all the mistakes seem to favor the Republicans? Why do the Democrats most loyal constituency, African Americans, seem to always get the short end of the stick? Why was the felon purge list a protected state secret until the court intervened?
And most important, why are we still discussing voter system abnormalities in 2004? It seems unfathomable since Gov. Bush had four years to fix the problem. Is this spectacular incompetence or is he just trying to sow confusion to make it possible for him to manipulate a few thousand votes to help W? If this election is a replay of 2000, Gov. Bush should swiftly resign in shame and ignominy.
While this issue affects all people, as a gay man I am particularly appalled because I have a lot to lose. A Kerry victory means inclusion and advances in gay rights. A Bush victory is a setback and means legislative and rhetorical gay bashing for four more years. It means abstinence-only programs that deprive young people of crucial, life saving information on HIV. It means Rev. Jerry Falwell having a direct line to the White House.
Despite all the terrible things that come for gay people with a Bush victory, I can live with the consequences. The only thing I absolutely can't live with is getting Jebbed again. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe that all eligible voters should be able to vote, all votes should count and the guy who wins the election ought to be President.