Florida Scene: African American Students Call for Revote

Question Fairness of Election When So Many Claim They Were Turned Away

BOCA RATON, FLORIDA, NOVEMBER 17—At about the same moment the NAACP was filing a lengthy transcript of complaints from black Florida voters with the U.S. Justice Department yesterday, three African Americans waited at the PalmTrans 1134 bus stop on the campus of Florida Atlantic University here, talking about the ongoing battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

"It was rigged," Alicia Null, a 19-year-old nursing student, said in a forceful Southern drawl, "because of Jeb Bush and his brother." Ryan, a freshman who wouldn't give his last name, and Allen Willis, a physical plant worker still dressed in his uniform, hummed agreement. "There's a trick game in here someplace," Willis added.

A cool Florida breeze flapped the fronds of the palm tree overhead, but the peaceful scene couldn't mask the anger, suspicion, and resignation these three expressed. Accusations that barely registered with the national media are to them the unquestionable facts of daily life in a state where the governor's brother, George W. Bush, has declared victory, and reports of civil rights violations rarely make the front page.

Allen Willis (left) and Alicia Null: insulted by comments that old people and African Americans are too stupid to vote
photo: Donna Ladd
Allen Willis (left) and Alicia Null: insulted by comments that old people and African Americans are too stupid to vote

What should be done to settle this contested election? "Revote." "Revote." "Revote."

"Even a recount doesn't solve the problems of people who didn't get to vote," Null said, referring to charges some African Americans were discouraged from going to the polls or refused the right to vote if they got there. Allegations that police in Hillsborough County checked IDs only of black people. The roadblocks some say kept minorities from the polls. The elderly voters who report being told their names weren't on the lists although they'd been registered for years. The scenes reminiscent of the 1960s, when poll workers asked black would-be voters how many bubbles are in a bar of soap.

Null, who is from West Palm Beach, said the butterfly ballot there was unfair and confusing. The comments and jokes that old people—and, by implication, African Americans too—are too stupid to vote are "insulting," she said defiantly. Null supported Al Gore because of his positions on women's rights and abortion, and because she worried Bush would appoint conservative Supreme Court justices who could strike down all affirmative action.

Willis, who lives in Boca Raton, could barely contain himself as Null spoke. He worries that minority rights will get lost in the shuffle to resolve the election with court rulings about recounts. "Everybody's got the right to vote," he said. "How do you make a deal about somebody's rights?" Clearly, something is amiss in the county of Palm Beach, he believes: "Buchanan got 400 votes in Broward and 3000 in Palm Beach? Hello? Bang, bang. You either lose or win the situation straight out, or you do the election over."

Then Ryan, a Broward County resident, jumped in. Black Floridians do not expect much response to the problems in this election, he said, as the others nodded. A lot of minorities do not feel like they can ask for help at polling places, he explained. "People don't know their rights. They don't want to look stupid." He said he knows of people who asked for a new ballot and couldn't get one. So they gave up and went home.

Bush polled miserably among African Americans, who supported Gore by as much as 10 to 1. The trio all said Bush is no friend to people of color. "People under Bush don't care nothing about minorities," Allen said, an opinion seconded by the others. Allen called Dubya and Jeb "con artists." He criticized Texas's record-setting pace of executions, its insurance rates, its meager assistance for needy children, and its water quality.

Ryan said Bush showed his true colors during the three debates: "Bush couldn't answer questions with straight answers," he said. "I didn't like his dad; I don't like him. And Jeb looks guilty."

They said Ralph Nader voters were "stupid," because they helped throw the election to Bush. As the sea green and flamingo-pink bus rounded the circle, Null sounded a hopeful note, saying she believed black Floridians should now be both angry and empowered, and will continue turning out to vote in droves as they did in this election: "Even more people will go next time. Every vote makes a difference." Ryan said he hoped so. "You don't vote, you don't say nothing," he said.

 
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