Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Florida Myth

Today's Wall Street Journal carries a piece on Democratic efforts to use the myth of black disenfranchisement in Florida in 2000 to turn out voters: The Florida Myth:
In case you were lucky enough to miss it, here's a recent fund-raising letter from New Jersey Democratic Senator Jon Corzine:

"Voter suppression and intimidation . . . in Florida again!? The GOP used voter intimidation and outright fraud to hand Florida to George W. Bush in 2000, and if we don't stop them, they'll do it again."

Yes, the political urban legend that black voters in Florida were harassed and intimidated on Election Day four years ago is making a comeback.
Was there any organized attempt to keep black voters away from the polls back in 2000? Presupposing there was such an attempt, it would require that the conspirators knew that the race in Florida would be tight enough (Bush's majority was less than 1000 votes) for such an effort to be material and that Florida would be decisive in the overall election.

While you might concede the later, the former is unlikely; New Mexico, Wisconsin and Oregon were all extremely close contests as well - if there was a plot in Florida, wouldn't there be plots in those states as well? (For more on the 2000 election results, see Dave Leip's excellent Atlas of US Presidential Elections)

Fortunately, we don't need to rely on supposition:
In June 2001, following a six-month investigation that included subpoenas of Florida state officials from Governor Jeb Bush on down, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report that found no evidence of voter intimidation, no evidence of voter harassment, and no evidence of intentional or systematic disenfranchisement of black voters.

Headed by a fiercely partisan Democrat, Mary Frances Berry, the Commission was very critical of Florida election officials (many of whom were Democrats). For example, "Potential voters confronted inexperienced poll workers, antiquated machinery, inaccessible polling locations, and other barriers to being able to exercise their right to vote." But the report found no basis for the contention that officials conspired to disenfranchise voters. "Moreover," it said, "even if it was foreseeable that certain actions by officials led to voter disenfranchisement, this alone does not mean that intentional discrimination occurred," let alone racial discrimination.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division conducted a separate investigation of these charges and also came up empty. In a May 2002 letter to Democratic Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, who at the time headed the Judiciary Committee, Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd wrote, "The Civil Rights Division found no credible evidence in our investigations that Floridians were intentionally denied their right to vote during the November 2000 election."
And yet, the Democrats are gearing up for legal challenges. The Journal piece cites recent opinion pieces in the NY Times tarring recent anti-voter fraud investigations as Republican efforts at voter intimidation (a similar story in the Washington Post is discussed here: The Politics of Election Fraud).

Darkening the picture further, ex-President Carter has chimed in:
Jimmy Carter, who has made a second career monitoring elections in world trouble spots, yesterday accused Florida Republicans of "brazenly" resisting efforts to clean up "fraudulent and biased electoral practices" that so marred the 2000 election in their state.
Among the elections Carter has monitored was Hugo Chavez's recent miraculous victory in Venezuela, so he knows a thing or two when he says "basic international requirements for a fair election are missing in Florida".