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2000-12-07

Lawsuit Filed On Voting Rights Violations in Duval County

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After hearing about thousands of complaints across the state, and holding many demonstrations nationwide, the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition yesterday filed a lawsuit seeking a hand recount of 26,000 presidential ballots that were thrown out in Florida’s Duval County, many of them cast by black voters. [includes rush transcript]

The lawsuit claims that the ballot layout was confusing, and the voting instructions were misleading. Many of those ballots came from majority-black precincts, where Vice President Al Gore won around 90 percent of the vote. The suit asks that the 26,000 ballots be sent to the state capital Tallahassee to be counted and included in Florida’s final tally.

This comes as reports increasingly show that more ballots were thrown out in heavily Democratic and African American neighborhoods than the average in Florida. A Washington Post analysis published last Sunday concludes that as many as one in three ballots in black areas of Jacksonville, in Duval County, did not count in the presidential race.

In a press conference yesterday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke strongly about voting irregularities, saying that voting problems such as the ones in Duval County have strengthened their resolve to support the ongoing court battle over election results. Justice Department officials are now in Florida investigating charges that African Americans were prevented from voting in a number of ways–some turned away from the polls, others stopped at road blocks, others denied help at the polls.

In Tallahassee, people took to the streets yesterday in a rally headed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and leaders of the AFL-CIO.

On Tuesday, Gore was asked about these irregularities during a Q&A with reporters.

Tape:

  • Vice President Al Gore, Speaking at a Q&A with reporters on Tuesday.

Guests:

  • Rep. Corrine Brown, member of Congress from Florida who filed the suit jointly with the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition.
  • Dan Keating, reporter with The Washington Post who co-authored the study on black votes.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After hearing thousands of complaints across the state and holding many demonstrations nationwide, the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition yesterday filed a lawsuit seeking a hand recount of 26,000 presidential ballots that were thrown out in Florida’s Duval County, many of them cast by black voters.

The lawsuit claims that the ballot layout was confusing and the voting instructions were misleading. Many of those ballots came from majority-black precincts, where Vice President Al Gore won around 90% of the vote. The suit asks that the 26,000 ballots be sent to the state capital, Tallahassee, to be counted and included in Florida’s final tally.

This comes as reports increasingly show that more ballots were thrown out in heavily Democratic and African American neighborhoods than the average in Florida. A Washington Post analysis published last Sunday concludes that as many as one in three ballots in black areas of Jacksonville, in Duval County, did not count in the presidential race.

On Tuesday, Vice President Gore was asked about the irregularities during a Q&A with reporters.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yes?

REPORTER: [Inaudible] talk about the black votes being discounted there.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Excuse me, say that — what?

REPORTER: The black votes that were discounted. Reverend Jesse Jackson and the NAACP

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yeah.

REPORTER: — are saying that black votes were discounted in Florida, as well.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, I am very troubled by a lot of the stories that have been reported about a roadblock on the way to one precinct, questions raised about various activities there. I do not have any personal or first-hand knowledge of those events. But whenever there are problems of that kind alleged, they are deserving of attention.

REPORTER: Will you meet with Jesse Jackson [inaudible] —

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Oh, I talk with him regularly, of course. And I work — I have worked with him closely. I have spoken with Kweisi Mfume and Julian Bond. Penda Hair, who is a head of the efforts by the NAACP against voter suppression, has been in touch with our people. But I have no knowledge of those activities. I just — I want to say to you clearly that in my opinion, whenever you have allegations of those kind, that is a matter that the entire country ought to take seriously. They are not part of the ongoing court action. And I don’t want to mislead you on that. But I certainly want you to know that I think that they’re serious allegations.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Al Gore on Tuesday.

In a press conference yesterday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke about voting irregularities, saying that voting problems such as those in Duval County have strengthened their resolve to support the ongoing court battle over election results.

Justice Department officials are now in Florida investigating charges that African Americans were prevented from voting in a number of ways — some turned away from the polls, others stopped at roadblocks, others denied help at the polls. In Tallahassee, people took to the streets yesterday in a rally headed by Reverend Jesse Jackson and leaders of the AFL-CIO.

Joining in the first lawsuit dealing with the voting rights of the African American community is Congressmember Corrine Brown of Florida. She joins us today from Washington, D.C., where Congress has reconvened. Welcome to Democracy Now!

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: So tell us about your lawsuit.

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Well, let me just say one thing first. It is no question in my mind that on November 7th, more people went to the polls voting for Al Gore than George W. Bush. It is just a fact. And in Duval County that I represent — and by the way, I do represent Seminole, also, part of Seminole. But in Duval County, we were not informed until November 10th on the 11:00 news that over 27,000 ballots had been thrown out in Duval County — over 17,000 of those ballots African American. Now that’s very significant, because the seventy-two-hour period had passed that you could ask for a manual recount.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it work? I mean, explain how that went down. How is it that in other counties, like in Palm Beach County, we found out very quickly that there were problems, and so issues were raised? How is it that over that whole seventy-two-hour period that no one understood that so many ballots were being invalidated?

REP. CORRINE BROWN: I don’t know who’s supposed to understand. I imagine that the Supervisor of Elections office is supposed to have the understanding as to what happened. Now, you need to know that that night, election night and throughout that time period, we had a team of lawyers talking to the Supervisor of Elections. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Is the supervisor Republican or Democrat?

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Everybody in Duval on that canvassing board are Republicans — all Republicans. And so, you know, I was a candidate on the ballot. And so, we had attorneys talking with them. The entire discussion revolved around 500 votes, period. There was no discussion about 27,000 votes.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean revolved around 500?

REP. CORRINE BROWN: I mean, well —

AMY GOODMAN: They were being told that there were just 500 that were questioned.

REP. CORRINE BROWN: That’s correct. That’s correct. 500 votes, that was the entire discussion. And I wrote a letter about seventy-nine of them that I wanted to review. I mean, I had no idea that 27,000 votes had been thrown out.

Now there — let me tell you the rest of the part that’s significant. The Supervisor of Elections had printed a ballot in the paper. Florida law says the ballot in the paper has to be the same as the ballot when you go to the polls. That did not happen. And if you followed the instructions of the ballot in the paper, it said you must vote on every page. Well, if you did that, then your ballot would be null and void. You would’ve voted — because he had presidential candidates on two pages.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Corrine Brown, what is the basis of the lawsuit you’ve joined?

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Well, basically we cited the disenfranchising of thousands of African Americans. In my race, 6,000 under-count in the presidential race, 5,000 — all of those were in predominately African American districts or Democratic districts that vote 98% Democratic. And if you look at the precinct by precinct how those ballots was totally disregarded, and we had no opportunity or no recourse to deal with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Corrine Brown, we’re also joined on the telephone by Dan Keating, who’s a Washington Post reporter and this past Sunday did a big piece along with John Mintz called "Florida Ballot Spoilage Likelier for Blacks."

You did a precinct-by-precinct analysis, Dan Keating. Can you explain what you found?

DAN KEATING: Yes. What we definitely found, as Corrine was saying, was a higher proportion of ballots being invalidated either as over-vote or under-vote in predominately African American precincts and predominately in precincts that voted heavily for Al Gore. And it seemed to have come through a confluence of events.

You know, we talked to people from NAACP, and we looked at the voter turnout involving the very high turnout of African Americans. They had a very successful get-out-the-vote campaign. In fact, approximately 40% of the African American voters were either new or very inexperienced voters. And what they were facing at the polls was an extra series of challenges, in that Florida was only one of five states to have ten presidential names on the ballot. And election supervisors say that anything over six astronomically increases the likelihood of especially inexperienced voters making an error.

The other thing is that African Americans are more likely than white voters to be voting with the kind of machines that are more inclined to lose votes, and, most importantly, they don’t check your ballot in the precinct. Let me quickly explain that, because it’s so important. In the twenty-three counties where when you cast your ballot, they check it right away, OK, in those twenty-three precincts, over 99% of the ballots cast had a vote for president, because if you make a mistake, if you double vote, it spits back out and they say there’s an error here, you have to fix it. So if you take out the error rate, virtually everybody votes for president. In the counties that don’t check your ballot in the precinct, the error rate was up around 4%. So you — I mean, 4% of the ballots don’t have a vote for president. So you multiply four times the number of people who all of a sudden don’t have an opinion just based on the fact that they are using different technology. So — and African Americans were more likely to be voting in precincts that don’t check the ballot.

So, you know, I’ve heard some comments, various commentators and everything saying, well, if people screw up their ballot, it’s their fault. But it’s — if you had a thing where you have two groups of people and one when they screw up their ballot, they get to have it checked and get a chance to fix it, and other people, when they screw up their ballot, they don’t get a chance to fix it.

So what we found there in Duval County is that in some precincts, as much as almost one in three — it was 31% in two different precincts — of the ballots didn’t have a vote for president.

Now, let’s compare this a little bit with Orange County, which has Orlando, where they check it. There in the African American precincts, less than 1% — it’s just what you would expect to see — less than 1% of the ballots didn’t have a vote for president.

So it’s not like you could argue that it’s likely that people didn’t really have an opinion for president. It’s that the technology there — and as Corrine said and we wrote about, and this is just an amazing fact — if you followed the instructions, your vote was invalidated, because it told you to vote on every page. And if you did that, your ballot would be thrown out.

Now, we also — the instructions also said if you make a mistake and you point it out, you get a new ballot. And we interviewed a woman who brought her high school senior son to vote. And they had some hassles with whether his name was on the list — I won’t go into all those — but when he finally voted, he came out of the booth, and he said, "Mom, I did great, I voted every page." And she shook her head and said, "No." And they looked at his ballot, and you could see that there were two punch holes in the presidential area. They brought it over to the — she said they brought it to the poll workers, and the poll workers said, "Oh, there’s nothing you can do about it," and took it and dropped it in the box.

So, you know, these issues have been raised about whether kind of in some counties they bent over backwards to help people. I know we’ve heard about, you know, Seminole and Martin Counties. One thing that we reported is in Okaloosa County, they sent out absentee ballot requests to people who didn’t request them at all. People have made a big controversy about, oh, helping to fill out the absentee ballot requests. In Okaloosa County, they did it to people who made no request whatsoever for an absentee ballot. And that’s a place where the absentees went for George Bush 81% to 19%, gave him an 8,300-vote margin.

So, I mean, there’s a lot of cases where people are arguing it was harder in one case and easier in another. And unfortunately because of the urban situation of being in — more likely to be in the big urban counties, a lot of those factors worked against the African American vote.

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Let me just make one point on that situation with the mom carrying their kid to vote, the law provides that you can get up to three ballots. So that person was told any — the information that was given to that family was incorrect. If they request a ballot, you can mess up at least, you know, two times.

DAN KEATING: And she said she found that out later in the day, but by that time their ballot had been put in the box, and there was nothing they could do.

One thing, unfortunately, is that we actually reported the day after the election that 9% of the ballots in Duval County were thrown out. But unfortunately, with so much else going on, it was kind of at the bottom of our main story. That was — that ran November 9th, but it was at the bottom of the story that was — had all kinds of stuff about, you know, Palm Beach County and everything else going on, so I think it didn’t really get noticed.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break for stations to identify themselves, but we’re going to come back to wrap up the conversation with Dan Keating, reporter with the Washington Post, who on Sunday did an analysis of the ballots, especially the ballot spoilage likelier for blacks at a precinct-by-precinct level. Also on the line with us is Florida Congressmember Corrine Brown, who has now joined a lawsuit around the issue of voting rights for African American in Florida.

After that, we’re going to talk about what happened in a Philadelphia courtroom yesterday. A supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal was just taken to jail for ninety days. We are going to find out about the latest decision from the Organization of American States in the case of the husband of Jennifer Harbury. Her husband was killed by the Guatemalan army supported by the Central Intelligence Agency. And we’ll be speaking with former Black Panther Dhoruba Bin Wahad about a case he just settled with the New York City Police and federal agents.

You’re listening to Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue to talk about what’s been going on in Florida, the issues that are being raised and the issues not being raised. Our guests are Dan Keating, a reporter with the Washington Post, co-authored a study on black votes in Florida, and Congressmember Corrine Brown from Florida.

Congressmember Brown, right now black leaders are taking aim at Miami Mayor Alex Penelas for the role he may have played in the stopping of the Miami-Dade hand recount. Can you explain?

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Well, you know, I’m not from Miami, but I talked to the congresswoman down there, Carrie Meeks, and it was a meeting the night before. And it seems as if the mayor has not been completely honest with the community and that he was talking to both sides and that perhaps there was some influence from the mayor’s office that caused the canvassing board that are employees — the supervisor of the mayor who changed their commitment. It’s a sad situation that you would not want to think that people would — I mean, I guess it’s politics at the worst level. How else can I say it?

AMY GOODMAN: We also have this report, the Florida Highway Patrol setting up checkpoints unauthorized outside of black churches that were the places of voting.

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Yeah, that was in, I understand, Tampa, Hillsboro County.

But let me also say that we registered thousands of people before the election. The Reverend Jackson and I in one day went to five cities. And we went to college campus, Florida A&M, Bethune Cookman College, Ed Waters College. When those students with their cards in hand went to the precincts to vote, they indicated that their name was not on the roll and they were not allowed to vote.

In addition, the Motor Voter that is under the direct supervision of the governor of the state of Florida, Jeb Bush, at least 2,000 people in Duval we identified registered to vote at the driver’s license place. That’s the law. Those people, applications was not turned over to the Supervisor of Elections office. So they didn’t get a opportunity to vote.

So, I mean, we’ve had a lot of hanky-panky in Florida. And, you know, I as a member of Congress have traveled to several countries monitoring other people’s elections. I am very embarrassed. How can we go around the world telling people how to vote with all of these problems and discrepancies in the state of Florida. We have an election that is not even close. But the system is disenfranchising thousands of people.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank both of you for joining us — Congressmember Corrine Brown. Final comment, Dan Keating, and your analysis of the precincts in Florida in the Washington Post.

DAN KEATING: You know, we did not try to look at or find or say that we either found evidence or looked or didn’t of, you know, any kind of conspiracy or anything. But it just seemed to be a really startling, you know, confluence of things coming together that led to this.

And it’s disturbing to know that these things weren’t particularly special in this election — that in fact this kind of thing happens on a more regular basis. It’s just the importance of the election and the closeness that it made everybody notice it. And not only this, but, you know, issues such as felons voting. I mean, I think if people want to open up the voting process, they need to review whether that law should be in place and whether people should be informed of their right to get their rights to vote back and things like that. I mean, there’s a lot of issues that this is making us focus on that we can do to make elections fair [inaudible] people participate.

AMY GOODMAN: Just to clarify that point, in thirteen states around the country, people who have served out their terms fully, come out of prison, are never allowed to vote again. And we’re talking about millions of people — in Florida alone, hundreds of thousands.

REP. CORRINE BROWN: But in addition to that, the Secretary of State, one of the things she did, she had a firm out of Texas, they paid her $4 million, and they kicked out thousands of people. Many of them was not felons. And many of the supervisor’s office was not able to restore those people back to be able to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. They sent out a letter to people saying that they wouldn’t be allowed to vote because they were in — had served time in prison, but they hadn’t.

REP. CORRINE BROWN: And I ran into one young man who was down at the Supervisor of Elections office on the day. He said that he had never been arrested, and when he went to his polling place, his name was on that he was a felon.

DAN KEATING: Yeah, I can tell you partly how that happened. What they did is to try to make sure they were expansive and didn’t miss people, they used kind of very broad matching when they matched the criminal list to the voter list. And it’s OK to use broad matching to make sure you don’t miss things. But you have to understand that when you do that, it means you’re going to get a lot of false positives. And so you then have to treat what you find with skepticism. So on one hand, they did something that’s justifiable, using a broad match, but then they — on the other hand, they turn around then they believed what they found instead of treating it skeptically.

And the other thing is it was applied very inconsistently county to county. And what I was referring to is whether, in fact, you know, I think if people are upset about this election and are agitated and have some energy, I think one of the things they might want to address is whether that law should be in place.

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Oh, I agree. That or we should get attorneys to volunteer to help clear up people’s records. We’re talking about things that happened to people thirty years ago.

DAN KEATING: And now they want to vote. I mean, now they want to be good citizens.

REP. CORRINE BROWN: Now they want to vote, and they want to be citizens. And they’re working, and they’re decent hardworking people. Why should they not have the opportunity to vote? And if you go to other states, that law is not in place. It’s just in place in areas that you have high concentration of African Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, I want to thank you both for being with us, Florida Congressmember Corrine Brown and Washington Post reporter Dan Keating.

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