Denying Voting Rights to People of Color

By Guberman-Garcia, Susan | The Humanist, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Denying Voting Rights to People of Color


Guberman-Garcia, Susan, The Humanist


For five hours on November 11, 2000, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People conducted public hearings on the Florida vote. These hearings were televised and retelevised on C-SPAN but mostly ignored by the U.S. media. What became eminently clear to me--and hopefully to most viewers--is that there was a systematic and calculated effort on election day to disenfrancise as many African Americans as possible.

The hearing, presided over by NAACP President (and former congressional Black Caucus chair) Kweisi Mfume and structured similarly to a congressional hearing, featured several panels of witnesses. Composed of two to four people, the panels included voters who had been denied their right to vote, NAACP activists who worked the get-out-the-vote effort, NAACP phone-stand volunteers who fielded complaints on election day, poll workers, and news journalists.

Extensive testimony demonstrated how people of color were repeatedly discriminated against on election day (and, given the statistics, dramatically lessened the Gore vote). The witnesses were all credible and impressive, their information detailed and documented. The complaint most often testified to by voters, and family members and others in their presence, was that they were denied their right to vote because they "were not on the rolls"--even though some had with them their voter registration cards and identification showing their names and addresses. This denial violates Florida law.

In many cases, poll workers who refused to allow voters to cast their ballot declined to make any effort to verify their registration status, telling them instead to "come back later." Some poll workers attempted to get approval for the voters to cast their ballots but were denied by "headquarters."

Two poll workers testified that they had been instructed to apply "qualification" procedures very strictly and, if there was any doubt, to deny the person the chance to vote. Poll workers were also told to refrain from issuing any written verification of the refusal, including affidavits. This is patently illegal as the law requires that any citizen whose attempt to vote is challenged be given an official affidavit of that challenge. In fact, many of the denied voters did request an affidavit or something in writing to prove they had attempted to vote, but all such requests were refused.

Some witnessses testified that they and other African American voters--unlike white voters--were required to provide both photo I.D and a current voter registration card. Many of those who couldn't produce both were denied their right to vote, even though the law doesn't require that the voter present both.

One news journalist who spent election day visiting various polling places reported that she personally witnessed these discriminatory denials. The reporter (who happens to be both white and a former police officer) accompanied one black voter to six different polling places because the voter was turned away time after time--despite having her voter card and photo I.D. she was told each time, "This is not your polling place. Finally, she returned to her original polling place and was allowed to vote.

The reporter also testified that at a polling place in Hillsborough County there were numerous police stopping African American voters and asking for I. …

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