Stolen Elections: Then and Now

Revolutionary Worker #1257, October 31, 2004, posted at

Many people still feel the bitter taste of the 2000 election.

After all the hype about elections representing "the will of the people" and "every vote counts"—the system ruled that it didn’t matter how people voted in the election. There was never a recount of the votes in the Florida balloting and when the U.S. presidency was decided by a vote—it was not the vote of the people—but of the Supreme Court, who selected George Bush by a vote of 5 to 4.

The election of 2000 caused millions of people to question that something was terribly wrong with the electoral process. Comparisons were made to corrupt elections in Third World countries—where the U.S. arrogantly sends their emissaries to oversee elections. And there were offers from several African countries, the Russian Duma, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro to send election observers to help with future U.S. elections.

As the 2004 elections near, it is becoming clear that ruling class forces grouped around Bush are preparing, once again, to steal the election and violate people’s democratic rights. This election campaign has already been characterized by vote theft and the intimidation of Black and Latino voters.

The Purging of Black Voters

The theft of the 2000 election actually started well before election day. Jeb Bush was (and is) the governor of Florida. The state’s election counting machinery is controlled by his appointees. And he promised during the presidential campaign that he would deliver the state for his brother.

Five months before the election, Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris ordered the removal of 94,000 names from Florida’s voter rolls on grounds that they were felons. Voter rolls contain the names of all eligible, registered voters. If you’re not on the list, you don’t get to vote.

State law in Florida (and several other states) denies voting rights to "felons" (meaning anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony-level legal offense).

These laws developed in the 1800s as part of the Jim Crow system of white supremacy, which developed elaborate means to deprive Black people of any political power or legal rights. Under the "Black Codes," Black people were sentenced to forced labor on chain gangs in large numbers—often for ridiculously small offenses or under conditions of gross injustice. And the white supremacist state governments added the additional penalty of stripping voting rights from them for the rest of their lives. Northern Florida, and especially the Florida panhandle, was part of the plantation areas of the Jim Crow South, and Florida’s state and county governments were part of that nightmare legacy.

These tactics continued in modern times, even after the formal structure of Jim Crow segregation was abolished in the late 1960s.

Black and Latino communities have been heavily targeted by the massive campaigns of the so-called "war on drugs," and Black people have gone to prison in much higher percentages than white people (even though large numbers of drug users and dealers are white).

The number of people in prison has quadrupled since 1980 and, for the first time in recent history, Black and Latino people again are a majority of those behind bars. Black men, in particular, form a majority of the four million ex-prisoners denied the right to vote.

This alone is a great injustice that not only robs individuals of their legal rights to vote and sit on juries, but deliberately undermines the role of Black communities in the official political process.

Florida developed a "felons list" to purge people from the state’s voter rolls. And they were so eager to knock people off that they adopted outrageous rules that eliminated the voting rights of many people who had not ever been convicted of anything. Their list included names of out-of-state felons from across the country, and it has been revealed that Florida state officials removed people from the voter lists if their names were even close to the name of a felon anywhere in the country. So if an ex-con in Illinois was named John Michaels, the Florida officials could knock off Florida voter John, Johnny, Jonathan or Jon R. Michaels, or even J.R. Michaelson. They did not cross- check their list with birthdates or social security numbers but they were very careful to match for race. A Black felon named Mr. Green would only knock off a Black Mr. Green, but not a single white Mr. Green.

Roughly 54 percent of those on the list were Black, while Black people make up just about 15 percent of Florida’s statewide population.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast has examined the list of 94,000 names and found that only 3 percent of the names on the list could actually be verified as felons. In fact, there were hundreds of names on the list who were obviously listed in error since their conviction dates were in the future!

Many of the tens of thousands of people incorrectly purged in 2000 have been unable to get their right to vote restored. For example, Willie Steen, an African American Gulf War veteran, had his right to vote taken away because his name was similar to William O’Steen, who had been convicted of a felony. Although Florida admits that Steen is innocent, they will not reinstate him to the voter rolls. Those who have had their names removed from the voter rolls were given a truly surreal choice: they had to ask for clemency from Jeb Bush for crimes they didn’t commit, were never convicted of, and were never even charged with, or else they had to go through elaborate court proceedings to prove that they are themselves and not a "felon" with a similar name.

The Stealing of the 2000 Election

These operations kicked up to another level when it became clear that the whole 2000 election might hang on who won in Florida.

Nationally, Vice President Al Gore got more votes than Bush—but the U.S. Constitution says that the popular vote does not decide the outcome of the election. (This continuing outrage is itself rooted in the compromises over slavery made by the so-called Founding Fathers in the original Constitutional Convention—Southern slave states were given extra electoral votes by counting their African slaves—who had no say and no legal rights—as 3/5 of a human being when the electoral college met.)

It was clear that the 2000 electoral college decision would go to whoever won the state of Florida. There were millions of votes cast in Florida. The counts for Gore and Bush were only separated by a few hundred votes.

That’s when all the stuff about "hanging chads" and "pregnant chads" came up. In all the scrutiny that followed, it became clear how many votes in Florida were routinely thrown out and not counted. And it became clear how many of those discarded votes were concentrated in Black areas.

In Florida overall, 179,855 votes were not counted—clearly enough to decide the election many times over. These were usually rejected either because there was an "undervote" (because the punch made in the paper was considered not decisive) or because there was an "over-vote" (a ballot with extra markings).

According to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, 54 percent of these uncounted votes were cast by Black people. The likelihood that a Black voter would have their vote disqualified was eight times that for whites!

One reason for this is that poor counties, with higher proportions of Black and Latino people, were routinely and deliberately given the worst voting machines — i.e. the ones most likely to produce spoiled votes.

For example, as British reporter Greg Palast points out in the November 2004 issue of Harpers , in Gladsden, Florida’s only Black-majority county, one vote in eight was spoiled in 2000.

In contrast, neighboring Leon County lost almost no votes. Why? Leon County voting booths were equipped with high-tech optical scanners which voters could use to check their own ballots.

Once again, it is no mystery what is going on here: Conservative state officials throughout the U.S. often assume that Black voters are a "solid" bloc voting against them, and so they have every interest in suppressing the Black vote as much as possible. They do this by permanently reducing the number of eligible voters. And they do it by disqualifying as many Black votes as possible. And they do it by "gerrymandering"—often by arranging the borders of voting districts so that Black voters have as little influence as possible.

In many ways, the "hanging chads" controversies of today have a deep historical connection to the "hanging trees" of the Jim Crow South.

And it is not just in the South, of course. For example, the head of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist started his political career as a "poll watcher" in Arizona—deliberately targeting Black and Latino voters in the polling stations, challenging their right to vote, and seeking to harass, disqualify or intimidate them.

Stopping the Count

When the electoral college looked tied, Gore initially demanded that the votes be recounted in four Florida counties.

Powerful forces around Bush swung into operation—in both Florida and Washington, DC—to stop this. They opposed the recount in court. They mobilized Jeb Bush’s appointees to obstruct the recounts at the county level.

And, at one point, when it looked like a recount might be completed, a group of hardcore Republican operatives- -aides to rightwing Republican congresspeople—stormed into the elections office and staged the now notorious "Brooks Brothers Riot"—banging on the walls, shouting "stop the count," and actually intimidated election officials out of counting the ballots.

Speaking to this incident Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA, said:

"Now, that was significant in itself but it was also symbolic of something much bigger than that particular incident. What it’s symbolic of is that these forces are quite willing to call into motion this fascistic kind of force that they’ve built up when they feel that they need it, and they’re willing to bring it all the way into motion and turn this into a whole other kind of religious, fundamentalist, fascistic society if they feel that’s where they need to go."

(“The Pyramid of Power And the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down,” Revolutionary Worker #1237, April 25, 2004, available at

What stands out, by contrast, is that Gore and the Democrats were very UN-willing to mobilize any forces— especially Black people—in the streets to oppose the stealing of this election. When a majority of the Supreme Court voted to hand the election to Bush without a recount , Gore bowed before this unprecedented judicial coup d’etat.

In the film Fahrenheit 9/11, there is a deeply disturbing scene in early January 2001, where members of the Black congressional caucus tried to challenge the 2000 election and protest the widespread disenfranchisement of Black voters in Florida. To get on the floor to challenge the election, they needed the support of at least one senator. Not one senator (including not John Kerry or John Edwards) would speak up for the basic legal rights of Black people in this election. And as if that isn’t outrageous enough, the film then shows Vice President Al Gore presiding over the houses of Congress, personally and directly gaveling down one Black congressperson after another. Al Gore would not join in their outrage and protest in any way, even though an honest count of those votes would have given him and the Democratic Party the White House!

This reveals starkly that, at the height of the bourgeois political apparatus, preserving the stability of the system, avoiding the risk of a constitutional crisis over the presidency, and nurturing the legitimacy of President Bush was more important—to all the senators and to Al Gore himself—than daring to unleash the people to struggle over the election, or even having the decency to uphold the basic legal rights of Black people!

Stealing the Election 2004

All during this current 2004 election season, there are renewed exposures of preparations to steal the coming election.

On September 27, former President Jimmy Carter took the unprecedented step of charging publicly, in a Washington Post column, that the Florida state plans for the 2004 election do not meet "basic international requirements" for fair elections and could undermine the legitimacy of the coming U.S. election. Carter, famous for organizing poll observers all over the world, charged that Florida Governor Jeb Bush had "taken no steps to correct these departures from principles of fair and equal treatment or to prevent them in the future." He added that: "A fumbling attempt has been made recently to disqualify 22,000 African Americans (likely Democrats), but only 61 Hispanics (likely Republicans), as alleged felons."

Florida’s new Secretary of State Glenda Hood tried to run the same "purging felons" scam in the 2004 elections, coming up with a list of 48,000 names to be purged from voter rolls—almost half of whom were Black. Hood first tried keep the list secret. After lawsuits forced her to turn over the list, the Miami Herald reported that at least 2,100 were actually eligible voters. Apparently Latino names had been eliminated from the list—perhaps because the large reactionary Cuban exile population in south Florida makes the Latino vote there much more heavily Republican than elsewhere in the U.S.

This exposure forced Governor Jeb Bush to drop these plans to purge voters.

In August, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert exposed that Florida was investigating "Get Out the Vote" drives among Black people in Orlando by sending armed police officers to intimidate scores of people—mainly Black and elderly—who had filed for absentee ballots. Those interviewed reported that police tapped on their ankle holsters in a threatening manner as they questioned them about requesting absentee ballots.

"I felt threatened, embarrassed and like I was accused of being a criminal," one person wrote in a statement.

Intimidation at the Polls

The Progressive magazine has published an extensive exposure of Republican actions to intimidate Black and Latino voters in a number of states (in "Bullies at the Voting Booth" by Anne-Marie Cusac, October 2004).

In Michigan, John Pappageorge, a Republican state representative, said, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election cycle." In line with Pappageorge, the Republican Party of Michigan announced that it planned to recruit 1,000 poll watchers to monitor elections. A Republican spokesperson told the Detroit Free Press that the GOP would assign 300 of those to Oakland County—where there is a heavily Black population.

What can people expect from these "poll watchers"? In the 1999 election, a group calling itself "Citizens for a Better Hamtramck" went to the polling centers in Hamtramck, Michigan, and approached people who appeared to be Arab.

"As people were standing outside waiting to vote, this group took it upon itself to ask people to prove they were citizens," says Laila Al-Qatami, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "They were asking voters to step aside and say an oath of citizenship, even if they were capable of producing a U.S. passport."

On the ballot in Arizona this November is an anti-immigrant referendum called "Protect Arizona Now" or Proposition 200, which would require special proof of citizenship for anyone registering to vote. According to The Progressive magazine there are rumors that anti-immigrant "poll watchers" will appear on election day to intimidate Latino voters. Vigilante supporters of the initiative showed up at polling places during Arizona’s September primary wearing misleading black T-shirts with "U.S. Constitutional Enforcement" on the back and the image of a badge on the front. They questioned and photographed Latinos who were voting.

The Progressive also documents organized efforts to intimidate Black, Latino and Native American voters in Missouri, Florida, New Mexico and South Dakota.

Destroying Voter Registration Forms

"Voters Outreach of America," a company paid by the Republican Party to register voters, systematically destroyed registration forms filled out by Democrats, perhaps disenfranchising thousands of voters in Nevada and Oregon. A former employee told a Las Vegas television news program that his supervisor tore up registration forms submitted by Democrats in front of him. "We caught her taking Democrats out of my pile, she handed them to her assistant, and he ripped them up right in front of us. I grabbed some of them out of the garbage and she tells her assistant to get those from me."

"Voters Outreach of America" is run by Nathan Sproul, the former head of the Arizona Republican Party. Sproul has run registration drives in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, and Florida, in addition to Oregon and Nevada.

Black Box Voting

In 2004 about one-third of all votes will be cast on direct-recording-electronic (DRE) computers. Votes cast on these computers vanish into the machines the moment they are cast. There are no paper ballots and no paper records, and so it is literally not possible to do a re-count if there are suspicions of voter fraud. The potential here for stealing elections in new ways is obvious to everyone.

Of the five private companies that manufacture these machines, at least two have strong ties to the Republican Party. Election Systems and Software (ES&S), whose machines will count more than half of all of the votes, is owned by an investment firm whose CEO is a large contributor to the Republican Party.

Another 8 or 9 million votes will be tallied by computers supplied by Diebold, whose CEO, Walden O’Dell, caused a scandal by declaring that he would help deliver his home state of Ohio to George W. Bush.

"The system is in crisis," Professor David Dill of Stanford University told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "The American public is voting on machines where there’s very little protection of their votes. I don’t think there’s any reason to trust these machines."

Over 1,600 computer experts have signed a petition demanding that electronic voting machines not be used unless they offer a paper trail.

Already there have been a number of suspicious incidents linked to the new machines.

In an election for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives touch-screen machines recorded 127 blank ballots. The race was won by 12 votes. No recount was possible because there was nothing to recount.

In an election in Indiana last year, an electronic system recorded more than 144,000 votes in an election with fewer than 19,000 registered voters.

Deadly Serious Stakes

"And I think one of the things that is very serious to consider, is that these people grouped around Bush. actually consider any other group of people being the government of this society as being completely illegitimate."

Bob Avakian, "The Pyramid of Power"

"I don’t know how many national elections you can take to the Supreme Court and not at some point have an explosion in this country."

Leon Panetta, White House Chief of Staff under Clinton

It seems clear, from the 2000 election and from the intense hostile tone of bourgeois politics, that the Bush forces consider any political challenger to be illegitimate. They believe they have a right to hold power by any means necessary, and they believe they can seize permanent control of the whole state—the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and military officer corps—far into the next century. They openly argue that John Kerry is favored by the terrorists and that a Kerry election would mean that the U.S. would be hit again. And the logic of their position suggests that they may well be willing to steal the coming election again—or cancel it if they look likely to lose.

There is a genuinely fascistic tone to much of this.

And, to the distress and frustration of millions of people, the Democrats have repeatedly shown that they are unwilling and unlikely to lead any real struggle over this—not only have they backed dangerous police-state moves like the Patriot Act, but they haven’t even resisted when they, themselves, are barred from the White House in a crudely stolen election.


Here we are in 2004 and the system is up to the same old Jim Crow tactics to deny Black people the right to vote. Outrageous!

These moves by the Bush camp to deny people basic political and legal rights need to be exposed and opposed. At the same time, people need to have the sophistication to grasp that whoever wins the election, the people are in big trouble.

Everyone who is opposed to the whole agenda of war and repression and all the other injustices of the system, including the historic and ongoing oppression of Black people, needs to realize that the will of the people cannot be expressed in this election. (See editorial, page 3)

And the most important thing is to unite with others to express and make it very clear that, whoever wins, there is no way that the election results can be interpreted as a mandate to continue the war in Iraq and the whole agenda that has been set in motion by Bush and company.

At the same time, it is not in the interest of the proletariat to have bourgeois democratic rights crushed, and it is in the interests of the proletariat to fight the crushing of bourgeois democracy. It is an irony of history that it often falls to the proletariat — and has historically been part of the proletarian revolution — to fulfill certain tasks that sections of the bourgeoisie are incapable of fulfilling — such as the fight to prevent the elimination of certain bourgeois rights. And then it falls to the proletariat to take that up and make it part of going somewhere else — that is, part of preparing the masses for revolution.

We do not know what election 2004 will bring, but it is going to be something big.

We cannot know the future, but we need to be prepared for it.