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Turmoil for black voters in Florida on Election Day.
December 3, 2000 1:45 AM   Subscribe

Turmoil for black voters in Florida on Election Day. Just like in the bad old days. Political situation in Duval County, Fla., presented in a historical and social context. From the Village Voice.
posted by leo (23 comments total)

 
From the article: "Hundreds of registered voters would tell the NAACP they were wrongly turned away from precincts across the state, because election clerks refused to accept their IDs, or polls in black districts closed early, or police set up roadblocks outside the halls."

Talk about being disenfranchised.
posted by leo at 1:54 AM on December 3, 2000


this sounds like the real election issue this year-- and also a situation where Jeb Bush could have easily held sway--

The sad fact of America today (and I'm talking sad on all fronts, from all perspectives) is that to dicourage black voters, all a Governet needs to do is order the cops to surround polling places.

I'm thinking that if this were a regular occurance in Florida, someone would have videotaped it-- if there is fraud in this election, I think this is the most serious, and wish someone had.
posted by chaz at 2:01 AM on December 3, 2000


They probably don't need video tape -- just enough witnesses to testify that something illegal was going on. The article mentions "lawsuits for violations of the Voting Rights Act" though this could take months and months.
posted by leo at 2:22 AM on December 3, 2000


From the article: They did just what the Democratic organizers instructed: Punch a hole on every page.

I'm sorry, but if people punched a hole on every page (because they were told to) and therefore invalidated their own ballots due to double-punching -- they don't deserve to have their ballots counted. They should have read the instructions and given a little care to what they were doing instead of taking the word of partisan organisers who were pushing them to the polls.

Race aside, I have no sympathy for those whose votes thrown out under that circumstance at all. Not one wit.
posted by Dreama at 3:15 AM on December 3, 2000


Having lived in Duval County for twenty-five of my thirty years, I can say, without fear of contradiction, that it is a perfect example of a redneck, backwoods, whitebread, mullet-wearin' trailer-trash, burg. I have no doubt that the local pigs would use intimidation tactics to keep black voters away from the polls. It is a bastion of "good-ol'-boy" thinking, and it probably always will be.
posted by Optamystic at 4:00 AM on December 3, 2000


If American citizens cannot now - circa 150 years after the end of the Civil War - read the instructions on a ballot and correctly complete that ballot, that is not the fault of slavery, the educational system or anything other than the voters themselves, and no amount of hand-wringing, placard-waving or thundering orations from preachers-cum-politicians will ever make it not so. If the Democratic organizers did, in fact, give them incorrect instructions, then the organizers are idiots and so are the people who followed the instructions without examining the ballot itself. You can say whatever you want about "red neck backwoods, whitebread, mullet-wearin' trailer-trash" "local pigs" (which in itself reveals a racist intolerance that's truly pathetic to see in this day and age, although I'm sure you won't see it that way) - but the only people to "blame" in this are the voters who so stupidly threw away their own chance to have their vote counted in this election.
posted by m.polo at 6:23 AM on December 3, 2000


If thousands of people have a problem casting a successful ballot, why do we continue to blame the people for the mistake instead of the ballot? In a country that used to have literacy tests to keep African-Americans out of the polls, there should be Congressional hearings on whether confusing ballots are being used to disenfranchise minorities.

I live in St. Johns County, immediately south of Duval in Florida. I have not read any reports of police in Duval setting up roadblocks outside of predominantly African-American polling places. The reports I have read involved a few rural counties.
posted by rcade at 7:27 AM on December 3, 2000


because thosands of people is a small % or the total number of voters. No design will be perfect for everyone.

The national avg for discarded ballots was around 3%. I've got a feeling that this will always be the average no matter how many times voting practices are redesigned.

The question becomes can you decide before hand what 3% you can confuse with a ballot design.
posted by Mick at 7:42 AM on December 3, 2000


According to a Miami Herald analysis of the vote in Florida, 1 out of every 27 ballots was thrown out in precincts that Gore won and 1 out of every 40 ballots was thrown out in precincts that Bush won. I think we can safely assume that a confusing ballot is more of a problem in Democratic voting areas than Republican ones.
posted by rcade at 8:04 AM on December 3, 2000


Do you guys actually think that a governor or other elected official could issue orders for police officers to obstuct racial minorities from voting and not have that order leaked out? Please. This is just an urban legend in the making. The only people who believe that this happened are Jesse Jackson, Gore supporters, and conspiracy theorists.

And for Optamystic, what would you say if someone posted the following:

Having lived in Duval County for twenty-five of my thirty years, I can say, without fear of contradiction, that it is a perfect example of a welfare-dependent, government cheese-eating, fried-chicken loving, uppity, black, burg. I have no doubt that the local NAACP radicals would use intimidation tactics to keep white voters away from the polls. It is a bastion of "affirmative action" thinking, and it probably always will be.

posted by CRS at 8:33 AM on December 3, 2000


Do you guys actually think that a governor or other elected official could issue orders for police officers to obstuct racial minorities from voting and not have that order leaked out?

Yep.

This is just an urban legend in the making.

I believe it could (and has) happened in this country, this year.

Do you honestly believe something like this could never happen in this country?
posted by mathowie at 10:10 AM on December 3, 2000


Do you guys actually think that a governor or other elected official could issue orders for police officers to obstuct racial minorities from voting and not have that order leaked out? Please. This is just an urban legend in the making. The only people who believe that this happened are Jesse Jackson, Gore supporters, and conspiracy theorists.

Does the word "Watergate" mean anything to you?

posted by rcade at 12:20 PM on December 3, 2000


CRS and optamystic: both y'all are cute. i wouldn't have thought to parallel "redneck" with "welfare dependent" (but maybe jeff foxworthy might, given that there are more whites on welfare in america than african-americans).

now, "backwoods" vs. "government cheese-eating": stereotypes aside, one could argue that there's some good cuisine available in those woods, and that (again) there are more whites than blacks nibblin' on that-there cheese.

"White bread" vs. "fried chicken loving"? If you're white and love fried chicken, raise your hand up off your mouse, wipe a crumb away with me and say "Hallelujah," won't you please?

I don't think I can wrap my head around "mullet-wearin'" vs. "uppity," as I think that every ethnic group should have the right to unfortunate hairstyling, as well as a certain amount of "passion" (love them "Fightin' Irish"! and why aren't there more "Fightin' WASPs?).

Now "trailer-trash" is a low blow, but quite telling in its range and indicative of how few slurs there are to refer to non-ethnic white Americans (outside of a few I can think of) that don't stoop to class-baiting. And there's no comparison there with "black," since there's 33 million ways to be black in the U.S.

It's a really funny picture, attempting to link "pigs" with "NAACP radicals." The NAACP is one of the most uptight, hidebound organizations around -- there ain't, I would submit to CRS, a "radical" soul up in there.

As for confusing "good-ol'-boy" thinking with "affirmative action" thinking, that's just a hoot.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 12:53 PM on December 3, 2000


How nice it must be to sit back in the relative comfort of our (largely) middle-class homes, in front of personal computers we (largely) own, gazing down from our collective ivory towers and blame voters who had never before cast a ballot for their disenfranchisement. It must be so rewarding to look in the mirror and realize how good we have it, to reflect on the ease through which we walk through our lives. We are truly golden, because we've been educated in good schools, raised in good homes, never been terrorized by the police. It must be so nice to be us.

I remember being utterly and totally befuddled by the ballots and the entire voting process when I voted the first time. I actually got to vote when I was two weeks before my eighteenth birthday. Even though I had attended one of Atlanta's finest high schools, even though I was on my way to University, I was participating in a ritual that was completely foreign to me. Oh sure, I had high school civics classes, but that wasn't enough to prepare me for an Atlanta ballot, where they shove umpteen referendums -- with no explanation of their merits and demerits -- alongside races for public office. I was lucky that voter turnout was relatively light, because I spent a good long time in that ballot box, making sure I knew exactly who and what I was voting for.

I imagine that the disenfranchised voters in Florida felt the same confusion I felt on that September afternoon 15 years ago, but unlike me they were faced with long lines, unruly voters, police intimidation, and a system that apparently pulled out all the stops to make sure that their votes would not count. I would imagine those were very stressful circumstances, and that assumption, coupled with the reality that the voting process can even confuse an educated first time voter led the very real, very tragic turn of events we see in Florida.

We can sit here and say "Well, I was smart enough to figure it out!" but how many of us can say that we went to schools with textbooks that were woefully out of date, or that we are functionally illiterate, that we are victims of a racist and classist system that even in this day and age rewards the whitest and wealthiest of us all? What happened to these voters should be something all Americans are ashamed of, yet some of us find the time to play the blame game, to fall in line behind the "us versus them" paradigm.
posted by likorish at 1:56 PM on December 3, 2000


If the Democratic organizers did, in fact, give them incorrect instructions...

I mean, is this the only thing we can fix on? The story goes on in lengthly detail through point after point of abuse and all we can come up with is a smidgeon of a fact which -- despite the whole weight of the entire rest of the article -- indicates an alleged failure in personal responsibility (of all things).

If one person's doing it, okay. But if thousands or even hundreds fall into the same trap, it's not a feature -- it's a bug.
posted by leo at 2:05 PM on December 3, 2000


It bothers me that so many people are willing to dismiss votes cast by folks who couldn't understand the written instructions. Admitedly, I haven't seen the instructions, so I don't know how easy or hard I might find them to follow. But it doesn't much matter.

Literacy, intelligence and fluency in English are not requirements for voting. The number one requirement is being an American citizen. And yes, even those citizens who may not have a perfect grasp of English, who can't read above a sixth grade level (half of the adults in the country today), or who have a hard time following complex instructions have a right to cast their ballots.

And those are just the conflicts that can disenfranchise people in the voting booth.

I have an African American friend who, while travelling through Missouri earlier this year, had to go to the doctor. In his office, she encountered two waiting rooms. One for whites and the other, presumably, for her. There's no way that the sheriff, judge, police, and elected officials in this town did not know that the situation existed. Is it such a big step to go from tacitly endorsed segregation to explicitly enforced discrimination?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:56 PM on December 3, 2000


I'm sorry, but the umpteen thousand other voters in Duval County clearly had no trouble understanding or completing the ballot. These voters - befuddled, unable to read, speak English or follow even moderately complex instructions, according to your description of them - had, on hand, Democratic Party volunteers to explain it all to them for that very reason. They still did it wrong. That's a lot more help than most people get, including likorish, who apparently took the time to figure it for him/herself. Every citizen should be given a reasonable opportunity to vote and these people had that.
posted by m.polo at 5:41 PM on December 3, 2000


m.polo -- you don't know what the circumstances were like in those precincts. Some polling places in Florida were moved at the last minute, and no signs were posted at the old place letting people know where to go in order to vote. Some polling places were overflowing with voters who were given a strict time limit before they were moved out of the polls. Some turned people away.

In every polling place I have voted in, including a St. Johns County precinct in Florida, the only volunteers around were too busy getting signatures, handing out ballots or putting ballots into a machine to help people in any other way.

There's a problem here. It probably won't make a bit of difference in the 2000 election, but this head-in-the-sand act is a disgrace to democracy.
posted by rcade at 6:08 PM on December 3, 2000


I can refer to Duval County in whatever terms that I choose to. It is my hometown, and it is a part of me. I love it more deeply than any other place in the world, but its shortcomings pain me more deeply than those of any other place.

In my earlier post, I may have used certain phrases that were perceived as "class-baiting" or "elitist". Rubbish. I consider myself fairly "whitebread". I lived in a trailer in Duval County for a good chunk of my life. I have no prejudice against those who live in trailers. The term "Trailer-trash" is shorthand used (effectively or not) for some degree of comic effect.

It is not the economic situation of the people in question that I find disturbing. Almost everyone in Jacksonville (Duval County) is lower middle class. It is the racism and provincialism that so often goes hand-in-hand with a piss-poor educational system, and an institutionalized view of African-Americans as second-class citizens. The west side of Duval County is largely a throwback to the Jim Crow South, with the "N" word thrown around in public and private with a casualness that most people would find absolutely stunning.

The racial tensions in that town are remarkable. Otherwise seemingly intelligent people of both races still discuss what side they will take when the "race war" comes. I personally had a close friend who was African American suffer a terrible beating (pre-Rodney King) at the hands of undercover police who failed to identify themselves as such. My friends' offense? Talking to a white girl at a high school football game. My friend dropped his lawsuit when he found out that going forward with it would hurt his chances of becoming a Florida State Trooper.

I am no authority on racial relations. But I do know that particular part of the country like the back of my hand. And from what I know of it, that area still has a very long way to go before African-Americans can rightly be considered to be enfranchised as a group. Let's hope they get there soon.
posted by Optamystic at 6:47 PM on December 3, 2000


m.polo -- you don't know what the circumstances were like in those precincts. Some polling places in Florida were moved at the last minute, and no signs were posted at the old place letting people know where to go in order to vote. Some polling places were overflowing with voters who were given a strict time limit before they were moved out of the polls. Some turned people away.

But all of that is irrelevant with regard to those who invalidated their own ballots because they followed erroneous verbal instructions instead of reading the ballot rules for themselves. (And we're clearly not talking about functional illiterates here, because they were able to complete the ballots, they just did it wrongly. These people can read; they just didn't bother.)

This isn't a reflection on poor conditions in polling places. This isn't a symptom of institutionalised racism (unless you're holding to the truly racist belief that poor + black in an urban area in the south = poorly educated, unable to read and complete a ballot on their own, and in need of assistance from whatever benevolent folks will come to their aid -- like the generous party hacks who gave the shoddy directions, perhaps) and it isn't a cutout picture of a bigger problem.

As much as outside agitators and the good organisers would like to make this out to be a failure on everyone's part but the voters, that is where the ultimate responsibility lay, and without any substantive proof that there was a concerted effort to harm these people or take their vote away from them, all we have is rumour, innuendo, supposition and conspiracy theory of the basest sort.
posted by Dreama at 6:29 PM on December 4, 2000


Dreama,

Live there for a year, and THEN deny that it exists.
posted by Optamystic at 1:31 AM on December 5, 2000


Deny that what exists? Systematic oppression that caused a bunch of people to listen to wrong instructions instead of reading for themselves?

And, for the record, Optamystic, I am a minority. I don't need to go anywhere to know that racism exists, I live it every blessed day right where I am. I just want to know how you equate listening instead of reading with racism.

You can't, you know it, stick to the issues and you'll see how vapid the contention is.
posted by Dreama at 5:48 AM on December 5, 2000


Well, this debate looks like its pretty well polarized.

Still, I agree with the case which says that when a lot of people screw up on using some user interface, it's the user interface and not the people that needs to be looked at.

In general, systems should be designed for people, not the other way around.

Blaming it all on "stupid" people isn't a very useful or constructive approach, especially while we're largely speculating about the causes.

posted by lagado at 6:26 AM on December 5, 2000


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