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Why Is Al Gore Ignoring Black Voters In Duval County?

If you have listened to Al Gore of late you are very familiar with the line of reasoning he has offered during his court challenges of Florida's election results. He says that he "wants every vote to count". He has contested the election results in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties on the grounds that votes were under counted. And he has offered his support for voters in West Palm Beach who say that they were confused by the layout of the "butter-fly" ballot, which supposedly caused them to vote for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore.

Gore very adamantly states that he would not feel comfortable with the results of an election where every vote was not counted, especially when the amount of the "not counted" votes potentially reaches into the tens of thousands.

If that is the case, then why hasn't Al Gore included in his court challenges or offered public support for Black voters in Duval County whose votes were "not counted" and who may have an even stronger argument than their counterparts in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties?

In Duval County, as many as 27,000 votes were disqualified. Much more than the amount of ballots tossed out in Palm Beach County. And of this 27,000 as many as 42% of these came from Black districts.

The total amount of votes rejected are more than 9% of the total Duval county turnout of 292,000. And the 27,000 votes are more than three times the 7,800 votes that were tossed out in 1996 and more than four times the number of votes struck in 1992- 6,100 votes.

Of the 27,000 votes up to 22,000 are "overvotes" and over 5,000 are "undervotes".

Overvotes occur when a voter selects more than one candidate and an undervote occurs when a candidate is not selected or when voters don't punch a hole in the ballot hard enough when they make their choice.

It is these undervotes that Gore has, in great part, centered his Palm Beach and Miami-Dade County court cases around.

Yet in Duval County, Gore ignores almost 6,000 of these votes.

But it is on the issue of the 22,000 overvotes where most of the controversy in Duval has centered. Why?

Because voters are complaining that the sample ballot that was displayed prior to the election and in the local newspapers, was designed differently than the actual ballot that was used during election day.

If that were the case it would appear to be a violation of Florida state election laws that mandate that sample ballots and actual ballots be the same. The state law, in part, says that sample ballots, "shall be in the form of the official ballot as it will appear at the polling place on Election Day."

Presidential candidates were listed on one page on the sample ballot but were listed over two pages on the actual ballot. On the sample ballot it was written, " vote every page", on the actual ballot it was written, "vote appropriate pages".

Assistant Supervisor of elections in Duval County, Dick Carlberg, told the Florida Times-Union that while to him, the ballot instructions are very clear, he does believe that the two-page ballot design did confuse voters.

But the debate over the sample and actual ballot is only the tip of the iceberg.

The deadline for requesting manual recounts passes after 72 hours. Democrats claim that they were not informed of the massive amount of disqualified votes until 11PM on Nov. 10.

In fact Mike Langton, the Northeast Florida chairman of the Gore campaign has publicly stated that Duval's Republican election supervisor, John Stafford, misled him and other Democrats as to the actual size of the disqualified votes.

Langton claims that Mr. Stafford told him, in the presence of a lawyer, that only 200-300 votes were disqualified as opposed to the actual 20,000 plus votes.

Democratic Party officials in Florida are aware of what happened in Florida, as are attorneys in the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in D.C. Still, nothing has been done by Al Gore or the Democratic Party to contest the election.

And even the claims made by some in the Democratic National Committee that they missed the deadline to ask for a recount and therefore are out of luck, ring hollow. spoke to lawyers who reject such arguments and are confident that the Democrats and Al Gore could and can challenge the election results in Duval County and demand a recount, especially if they originally missed the 72-hour deadline due to the alleged error or deliberate deception of an election official.

In fact, Florida law is very liberal about overturning election results. Among some of the grounds under Florida state law on which an election can be challenged is "receipt of a number of illegal votes or rejection of a number of legal votes sufficient to change or place in doubt the result of an election".

And Florida law also contains a catch-all provision that certainly seems to be applicable to what happened in Duval County. In the law it states that an election contest can succeed if there exists, " any other cause or allegation which, if sustained, would show that a person other than the successful candidate" was declared the victor. Under these circumstances, Florida law states that judges are authorized " to provide any relief appropriate".

And Black leaders have recognized the apparent strength of the case in Duval County, and legally independent of the Gore campaign, have filed a lawsuit of their own challenging the Duval results and asking for a hand-count of all disputed votes.

The lawsuit is being filed by Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Florida) and Rainbow/PUSH.

However, there is no reason why the Gore campaign, itself, could not challenge the result in court. And the Gore decision to not do so has upset many Black leaders and elected officials.

And these Black leaders are not just disappointed in Al Gore's missing-in-action status in Duval County but by his lack of support for Black voting right violations throughout the state of Florida.

Dwayne Wickham wrote about this in his recent column in USA Today. He wrote:

Last week, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume accused the Justice Department of being "the Just-Ice Department" following the tepid response he said he received when he asked Attorney General Janet Reno for a formal federal investigation of the mountain of voting-rights complaints his organization received from Florida. (This past weekend, the Justice Department did send two investigators to Florida to see whether such an investigation is warranted.)

But the NAACP's harshest attack was aimed at Gore, who has said nothing publicly about the alleged acts of intimidation black voters encountered on Election Day. "I'm extremely upset," Julian Bond, the NAACP board chairman, said Sunday on BET.

"We expected the Democrats to behave a little better in this post-election season. Black voters supported Al Gore like nobody's business. We expect some payback."

If Al Gore is in constant contact with Black leaders and particularly Rev. Jackson as he claims, and if Democratic National Committee lawyers and representatives are aware of what has happened in Duval County and in other parts of Florida then it is apparent that the Gore campaign has deliberately decided to not take the allegations of voting rights violations, undervotes, and overvotes to court and has even decided to keep a low-profile on what happened to Blacks throughout the state.

Gore has not even publicly acknowledged the connection between his electoral misfortune and what has happened to blacks in Florida. And he has not encouraged, enthusiastically supported or promised to encourage Janet Reno to have the Justice Department investigate the matter, as has been his custom response when dealing with the complaints civil rights organizations.

Several representatives of Congressional Black Caucus members told that in essence Gore has decided which battles to fight and that he has made poor decisions.

And they add that Gore did not have the stomach to bring in race-sensitive issues into his court challenges no matter how strong the evidence. They offered that Gore is as much interested in how this all looks in the court of public opinion among white Americans as he is in winning in the court of law.

Maybe Al Gore had something else in mind when he said he wanted every vote to count.

Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, December 7, 2000

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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