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Putting the Race in Election Races: Voter Disenfranchisement From the Segregationist 60’s Totoday

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Last week, civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against Florida election officials on behalf of thousands of blacks,saying they were denied the right to vote in the presidential election because of institutionalized racism.

The suit asks a federal judge to overhaul how Florida’s elections are run. It advocates getting rid of punch-cardballots used in 25 counties, fixing the system for purging voter lists and monitoring state elections for 10 years.

Also last week, a federal commission began hearings in Tallahassee on voting problems in the presidential election.The panel heard accusations of harassment, voter registration irregularities, illegal voting-poll purges and accountsof a state patrol road block set up election morning near a precinct.

Lawful voters were purged from registration lists and some voters were not given required language assistance. Also,about 17,000 letters were sent out informing people they couldn’t vote because they were convicted felons, even thoughmany were not.

"This thing is so massive," said Adora Obi Nweze, Florida president of the National Association for the Advancement ofColored People. "It’s scary to think about what the numbers could be."

The pattern of disenfranchisement of people of color harkens back to one of the most hard-fought battles of the civilrights era, to a form of discrimination that many Americans assumed had ended when poll taxes and rigged literacytests were declared illegal. But it appears that although some of the techniques of voter disenfranchisement havechanged, the exclusion of people of color endures. This time it may have gained George W. Bush the presidency.

Charlie Cobb’s activism has spanned both eras.


  • Charlie Cobb, was a field secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] inMississippi from 1962-67. Currently, he is senior writer for Cobb is co-author, with Robert Moses, ofthe soon-to-be-published book, ??Radical Equations, Math Literacy and Civil Rights.

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