DECEMBER 7—The wild cards in the battle for the presidency just keep coming. A fresh round of civil rights allegations may keep the matter alive, even if the Florida Supreme Court rules against Al Gore.
African American leaders in Jacksonville filed their own lawsuit this week in Leon County Circuit Court contesting the presidential election. The leaders charge that George W. Bush was certified as the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes only after minorities were systematically denied the right to cast ballots.
U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Duval County, is a plaintiff, along with Reverend Jesse Jackson. “People are very upset,” Brown told the Los Angeles Times. “They are stopping me in the grocery stores and in church, asking me what I’m going to do about it. . . . There is not a doubt in my mind that Al Gore won the state of Florida.”
The suit alleges that of the more than 26,000 ballots not counted in Duval, more than 9000 were cast in largely black precincts where Al Gore took over 90 percent of the vote. It claims a motor-voter program that allows people to register or update their existing registration when applying for a driver’s licence failed in Duval, because the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles never gave the registration documents to the county’s supervisor of elections. The suit also claims voting equipment didn’t work properly and that a sample ballot was different from the misleading ballot used in actual voting.
The leaders are asking the Leon County court to take possession of the uncounted ballots from Duval for safekeeping and then have them manually recounted. They also want a judge to order Secretary of State Katherine Harris to certify Gore—not Bush the winner in Florida.
A research paper by Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza shows just how great an effect the disenfranchisement of felons, many of them African American, had on this election. Presented at a recent meeting of the American Sociological Association, the paper suggests that if ex-cons had been allowed to vote, Gore would have taken Florida easily. If the 700,000 disenfranchised felons in the state had been allowed to cast ballots, “Gore would have won by almost 87,000 votes,” they conclude.
The professors make these points:
The ex-felons alone—those who completed their jail sentences and periods of parole—would have swung Florida. This means the election hinged not on the question of whether all cons could vote, but on whether the ones who have successfully paid their debt to society should have full citizenship restored.
If these former felons had not been disenfranchised—a practice initiated, along with the poll tax, to block the black vote during Reconstruction—their votes alone would have made the difference for Gore. All of the discussions about butterfly ballots, absentee voting, dimpled chads, and hand recounts would have been irrelevant.