excerpted from: African American Vote: Election Irregularities on November 7, 2000 , 15 FEB 15-FEB NBA National Bar Association Magazine 18- (January/February, 2001)
Civil rights organizations have received complaints of widespread denial of the right to vote, affecting minority voters and predominantly-minority precincts, in Florida and elsewhere in the country. Some of these complaints were presented at NAACP field hearings November 11 in Miami, at which National Bar Association member Thomasina H. Williams, Esq. of Williams & Associates, P.A., testified. These hearings were the first step in an effort to make a public record of the reports of voting irregularities experienced by African Americans and other citizens who attempted to vote, and to ascertain the extent of their disenfranchisement.
The information gathered by civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, details allegations of several forms of outright denial of the right to vote, as well as intimidation and barriers that prevented or discouraged voting. Complaints include the following types of disenfranchisement: alleging serious violations of the United States Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act, as well as Florida election law and Florida civil rights statutes.
VOTERS TURNED AWAY AT THE POLLS
Minority voters who have been registered for many years and who have voted in the past, were told when they appeared at their polling places that their name was not on the precinct list. Some minority voters said they were turned away because they did not have photo identification, even though Florida law provides that registered voters without photo IDs may cast "affidavit ballots".
Reports indicate that in some counties, minority voters were asked for a photo ID while white voters were not.
Some minority voters claimed that they were not allowed to vote even though they arrived at the polling place with both their voter card and a photo ID.
Voters who did not appear on the voting list or have a photo ID reported that they were shunted into a "problem" line, where they waited for long periods of time after being told that election officials were trying to telephone headquarters. However, because phone lines were jammed and many of these calls never went through, some voters were left waiting for hours and still did not get to vote, other voters became discouraged and left without voting.
Some voters told of being sent from polling place to polling place, with no real effort to determine where they actually would be permitted to vote. Some claimed to have been turned away from not just one, but three or four polling places.
Registered voters reported being denied the right to vote because of minor, immaterial discrepancies in their names as they appeared on registration lists and in their proof of identification--such as their use of middle initials. Voters who were turned away said that they were not offered affidavits or challenge ballots.
Large numbers of minority voters who registered before the October 10, 2000 deadline under Florida law did not receive their voting cards before November 7. When they appeared at the polls, they were told they were not on the voting list and were not permitted to vote.
POLLING PLACES MOVED WITHOUT NOTICE
Witnesses also reported that one, and possibly more, polling places were moved without notice to the voters and without the placement of a sign at the site, as required by Florida law. As a result, the minority voters served by this polling place either had to overcome the barrier of locating their new polling place on their own (telephone calls to election officials were either not answered or not helpful) or were denied the right to vote because they could not locate their polling place.
INTIMIDATION, THREATS AND HARASSMENT OF AFRICAN AMERICAN VOTERS
Witnesses reported police checkpoints or police stops of voters in the vicinity of several polling places in African American neighborhoods.
ABSENTEE BALLOT IRREGULARITIES
Voters who requested absentee ballots alleged that they did not receive them and that they then were not allowed to vote when they went to the precinct in person on election day.
FAILURE TO PROVIDE OR ALLOW ASSISTANCE
Many Haitian American voters requested the assistance of a volunteer Creole/English speaker, who was willing to translate the ballot for those with limited English proficiency, but were denied such assistance. As a result, many Haitian American voters may have been denied the right to vote.
DEMOCRACY DENIED: THE TRUE EQUAL PROTECTION VIOLATION
When taken together, the allegations of exclusion and intimidation that civil rights investigations have uncovered so far show a pattern of disenfranchisement of large numbers of minority voters in several counties in Florida. The equal protection rights of African American, Haitian American and Hispanic voters who tried to vote, and who made heroic efforts to overcome barriers to their legitimate political participation, were denied in this election.
THE NATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION RESPONSE
Mindful of these problems, the National Bar Association responded promptly, forming an Election/Voting Rights Task Force co-chaired by David Honig and Thomasina Williams. The task force prepared and filed an Amicus Curie brief in Bush v. Gore (U.S. Supreme Court, No. 00-949).
The NBA's brief did not urge a particular outcome. Instead, it attempted to place the issues in the case in their historical context. The brief expressed the NBA's view that the contentions of those favoring the termination of a count of legally cast votes are open to a skepticism informed by the history of African America's journey to the ballot box.
The NBA described how the nation has endured a history littered with abhorrent disenfranchising tricks and devices. Today's failure to tally and record legal ballots is the ill-begotten child of generations of disenfranchisement schemes, including literacy tests, poll taxes, white primaries, and an array of other voter disqualification devices that discouraged or prevented otherwise eligible Americans from casting their votes.
Declaring that these disenfranchisement techniques "cast a long shadow over this case," the NBA urged the Court to "hold to the most exacting burden of persuasion anyone who seeks to prevent the tallying and recording of legally cast votes."
Finally, the NBA observed that "[o]ur system has stumbled when an election case arrives in any court. Consequently, this Court would perform a valuable public service by drawing attention to the many non-controversial, nonpartisan, race-neutral standards and procedures available to a nation seeking to heal itself and make more perfect its union." The brief did not seek the Court's endorsement of particular reforms, but asked only that the Court commend several of them to legislatures, agencies and the bar for consideration.
The brief contained descriptions of a number of the potential election reforms, which have been developed by the NBA's Elections/Voting Rights Task Force.