Why Florida Still Counts By Faye M. Anderson
Finally, a consortium of eight news organizations, including the New York Times, CNN and the Associated Press, has released its much-delayed study of Florida's 175,000 uncounted ballots. Truth be told, the media had a special obligation to review the ballots and inform the American people about what happened in the vote counting in Florida. It was, after all, their rush to judgment on Election Night that set the stage for the 36-day election impasse.
Many are no doubt disappointed that the study did not conclusively establish whether Al Gore or George W. Bush won Florida. Still, withholding the consortium's findings in the name of "national unity" would have further undermined the importance of counting every vote.
Just as the first war of the 21st century revealed the vulnerabilities in our national defense, the first presidential election of the 21st century exposed the underbelly of Florida's election administration systems.
Sadly, Florida's 175,000 uncounted votes were just the tip of the iceberg. In the wake of the election debacle, we now know that much of the country's patchwork election systems is broken. Indeed, a nonpartisan study by Caltech/MIT found that 4 million to 6 million votes nationwide were tossed out in the 2000 elections.
Earlier this year, I asked Lou Boccardi, president of the Associated Press, whether White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was right in saying the media consortium "is wasting their time and money." His response: "We're not wasting time. We're not wasting money. We're not trying to undermine President Bush or anyone else."
Boccardi added: "It is simply inconceivable that everyone would simply turn from these events and say, 'OK. Well, it's over. The Electoral College has spoken. The Inauguration Day has been held. We'll just forget about all of this.' That's just not rational in my view. We're unearthing information. That's what we do for a living."
Well, what activists do for a living is agitate for reform. Florida still counts a year later because with the exception of a handful of states, there has been little change in the nation's voting systems. When many voters go to the polls in the 2002 midterm elections, they will still confront unreliable punch-card machines, confusing ballot designs, poorly trained poll workers and overwhelmed election officials. And ballots in predominantly black precincts will more likely be rejected.
Elections are the sine qua non of democracy. As such, it is our patriotic duty to ensure that every American has an equal opportunity to vote and to have his or her vote counted. It would turn patriotism on its head to suggest that electoral reform should be put on hold during Operation Enduring Freedom.
There is already an effective model for civil rights agitation in a time of national crisis, the "Double-V" campaign--Victory at Home, Victory Abroad. The campaign, spearheaded by the Pittsburgh Courier, a black-owned newspaper, was launched during World War II. Civil rights and labor leaders pushed for democratic rights at home for African Americans who were fighting to secure freedom and democracy abroad.
In post-Sept. 11 America, those of us fighting to restore black voters' confidence in the electoral process must emulate the World War II Generation. We must embrace a dual campaign of victory against terrorism abroad, and victory against a culture of disenfranchisement at home.
Faye M. Anderson is the producer and writer of a documentary about the Florida presidential election, "Counting on Democracy," which will be released in 2002.
She can be reached at AndersonatLarge@aol.com.
Faye M. Anderson
Monday, November 19, 2001
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