Jim Crow Revived in Cyberspace
Jim Crow Revived in Cyberspace
By Martin 0aLuther King III and Greg Palast
Thursday 08 May 2003
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Astonishingly, and sadly, four decades after 0athe Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched in Birmingham, we must ask again, "Do 0aAfrican-Americans have the unimpeded right to vote in the United States?"
In 1963, Dr. King's determined and courageous band faced water 0ahoses and police attack dogs to call attention to the thicket of Jim Crow laws -- including poll taxes and so-called "literacy" tests -- that stood in the way 0aof black Americans' right to have their ballots cast and counted.
Today, there is a new and real threat to minority voters, this 0atime from cyberspace: computerized purges of voter rolls.
The menace first appeared in Florida in the November 2000 0apresidential election. While the media chased butterfly ballots and hanging 0achads, a much more sinister and devastating attack on voting rights went almost 0aundetected.
In the two years before the elections, the Florida secretary of 0astate's office quietly ordered the removal of 94,000 voters from the registries. 0aSupposedly, these were convicted felons who may not vote in Florida. Instead, 0athe overwhelming majority were innocent of any crime, though just over half were 0ablack or Hispanic.
We are not guessing about the race of the disenfranchised: A 0avoter's color is listed next to his or her name in most Southern states. (Ironically, this racial ID is required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a King 0alegacy.)
How did mass expulsion of legal voters occur?
At the heart of the ethnic purge of voting rights was the 0acreation of a central voter file for Florida placed in the hands of an elected, 0aand therefore partisan, official. Computerization and a 1998 "reform" law meant 0ato prevent voter fraud allowed for a politically and racially biased purge of 0athousands of registered voters on the flimsiest of grounds.
Voters whose name, birth date and gender loosely matched that of 0aa felon anywhere in America were targeted for removal. And so one Thomas Butler (of several in Florida) was tagged because a "Thomas Butler Cooper Jr." of Ohio 0awas convicted of a crime. The legacy of slavery -- commonality of black names -- 0aaided the racial bias of the "scrub list."
Florida was the first state to create, computerize and purge 0alists of allegedly "ineligible" voters. Meant as a reform, in the hands of 0apartisan officials it became a weapon of mass voting rights destruction. (The 0afact that Mr. Cooper's conviction date is shown on state files as "1/30/2007" 0aunderscores other dangers of computerizing our democracy.)
You'd think that Congress and President Bush would run from 0aimitating Florida's disastrous system. Astonishingly, Congress adopted the 0aabsurdly named "Help America Vote Act," which requires every state to replicate 0aFlorida's system of centralized, computerized voter files before the 2004 0aelection.
The controls on the 50 secretaries of state are few -- and the 0atemptation to purge voters of the opposition party enormous.
African-Americans, whose vote concentrates in one party, are an 0aeasy and obvious target.
The act also lays a minefield of other impediments to black 0avoters: an effective rollback of the easy voter registration methods of the 0aMotor Voter Act; new identification requirements at polling stations; and 0aperilous incentives for fault-prone and fraud-susceptible touch-screen voting 0amachines.
No, we are not rehashing the who-really-won fight from the 2000 0apresidential election. But we have no intention of "getting over it." We are 0amoving on, but on to a new nationwide call and petition drive to restore and 0aprotect the rights of all Americans and monitor the implementation of 0afrighteningly ill-conceived new state and federal voting "reform" laws.
And so on Sunday in Birmingham we marched again as our fathers 0aand mothers did 40 years ago, this time demanding security against the dangerous "Floridation" of our nation's voting methods through computerization of voter 0arolls.
Four decades ago, the opposition to the civil right to vote was 0aeasy to identify: night riders wearing white sheets and burning crosses. Today, 0athe threat comes from partisan politicians wearing pinstripe suits and clutching 0alaptops.
Jim Crow has moved into cyberspace -- harder to detect, craftier 0ain operation, shifting shape into the electronic guardian of a new electoral 0asegregation.
Martin Luther King III is president of the Southern Christian 0aLeadership Conference. Greg Palast is author of The Best Democracy Money Can 0aBuy, and his investigation of computer purges of black voters appeared in 0aHarper's Magazine.
Traditional media inquiries (interviews, appearances, 0aexcerpts): email@example.com
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Greg Palast's completely updated US. edition of The Best 0aDemocracy Money Can Buy, now in its tenth week on the NYT bestseller list, is 0aavailable from Penguin Plume at booksellers and via www.gregpalast.com.
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Report Faults Fla. Voting 0aMachine Vendor
Thursday 08 May 2003
MIAMI - The provider of the touch-screen voting machines used in 0alast year's botched primary elections misled officials about the equipment, a 0agovernment study said.
The 41-page draft report by the Miami-Dade office of the 0ainspector general said Election Systems & Software's sales team "conveniently left out" vital information about the touch-screen device 0acapabilities and in effect turned the election into a live test for the 0asoftware.
Some of the difficulties, it said, were caused by the need to 0ahave voting in three languages: English, Spanish and Creole, a language spoken 0aby Haitian-Americans.
The report still recommends county elections officials keep the 0aequipment, but says additional equipment will be needed. The system has already 0acost the county $24 million.
Miami-Dade County precincts had problems opening and closing 0apolls and tallying votes during the Sept. 10 primary. The problems were blamed 0aon a lack of training, a lack of familiarity with the new touch-screen voting 0asystems provided by Election Systems & Software, and poor organization.
The county's touch screen system replaced older punch card voting 0atechnology that came under heavy criticism during the debacle in Florida in the 0a2000 White House race.
"We have to learn to make do with what we have," the report said. "Surely there will be upgrades to the system. However, county management should 0anot be led blindly down the path of education by a vendor who turned the 2002 0aMiami-Dade County elections into a live (software) test."
The report said ES&S failed to tell county officials that 0aadditional memory chips would be needed because of the trilingual ballot.
ES&S dismissed the report as "factually inaccurate and 0aunenlightened" and said no company had ever designed a trilingual ballot.
Miami-Dade elections supervisor David Leahy declined to 0acomment.
The report also stressed the need for additional training, 0aimproved recruitment of poll workers and other administrative changes.
"In other words, more action and less meetings," the report 0asaid.
For 0amore stories on: Florida Election
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