State of disgrace 

Rigging the vote (again) in Florida

And so it has begun. The thing we all knew could happen, feared would happen, but hoped that somehow, in our American democracy, would not happen. The rigging of the presidential election is formally underway—and somehow it comes as no surprise that it begins in Florida, under the governorship of Jeb Bush, President George W. Bush’s younger brother.

In defiance of a court order, Florida, a swing state that could go for John Kerry, is sending out absentee ballots containing Ralph Nader’s name. According to the state’s elections chief, Hurricane Ivan has created “uncertainty” about a scheduled court hearing on the legality of the Nader listing, thus forcing her to mail ballots to overseas voters immediately.

Predictably, the Democrats are blown away by the latest election-rigging ploy. In 2001, when Al Gore lost Florida by 527 votes—and the Supreme Court stopped the recount—Nader took 98,000 votes away from Gore’s side of the ledger. Jeb Bush and his administration would like to see Nader likewise siphon votes from John Kerry.

The court had issued an injunction against printing ballots with Nader’s name because he is listed as the Reform Party candidate. But the Reform Party is not recognized as a national party under Florida’s own laws, so the judge told Florida’s election officials that they could not issue those ballots pending a hearing, this week, on their legality.

According to Gov. Jeb Bush: “It’s up to the judge to determine, based on the law, whether Nader should be on the ballot or not. But while that process goes on, we cannot put ourselves in the position where the ministerial role of the supervisors cannot be fulfilled.” Catch that now: “the ministerial role of the supervisors” trumps the process of law simply because Jeb Bush and his elections officer, Dawn Roberts, say so.

Once the ballots are printed and mailed, the issue of whether they were proper (or legal) would be kind of moot, wouldn’t you say? If the votes were challenged later, is it a mystery how this Supreme Court would rule on the decision of who gets the presidency, and which votes should or shouldn’t be counted? Is this déjà vu all over again?

Scott Maddox, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, is blunt in his assessment of what’s going on. “I’m in disbelief,” Maddox told reporters. Calling the move “blatant partisan maneuvering to give his brother a leg up on election day,” Maddox says he is “astounded that Jeb Bush is willing to defy the judiciary to help his brother.” It’s hard to fathom why, after the 2001 election debacle, Florida Democrats would or could be “in disbelief” over any level of election chicanery to come out of Gov. Jeb Bush.

For instance, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert recently reported on efforts to “suppress the black vote” by Florida state police. Using the thin cover of “an investigation,” the Florida cops, under the direction of Jeb Bush and aided by FBI officers under the direction of George Bush, have been harassing and intimidating elderly black Floridians who are involved in efforts to help other elderly black Floridians get to the polls, obtain absentee ballots and take part in the elections.

Sad to say, but this is nothing new. Efforts to keep blacks away from the polls in the South have been a shameful blight on this country’s history that now continues at a new and even more shameful pace under the administrations of both Jeb and George Bush. Instead of the white hoods of the KKK, the harassers now wear police and FBI badges and, in typical bass-ackward Bush-talk, are supposedly protecting the election process by harassing those trying to vote. As one elderly black woman asked: “Am I going to go to jail now because I voted by absentee ballot?”

While some might think that is an overreaction to the investigations, the attorney for the Voters League says the intimidation is working. “People who have voted by absentee ballot for years are refusing to allow campaign workers to come to their homes. And volunteers who have participated for years in assisting people, particularly the elderly or handicapped, are scared and don’t want to risk a criminal investigation.”

Given the extensive efforts to sway the Florida elections by Jeb Bush, putting Ralph Nader on the ballot in defiance of a court order hardly seems surprising. What does seem unbelievable, however, is the use of a pending hurricane as an excuse to discard the rule of law.

Earlier this year, speculation was rampant that some “terrorist incident” or another might “force” the postponement of the November elections (see “Elections, what elections?” July 15, 2004). The Bush-appointed head of the U.S. Election Assistance Committee, DeForest Soaries Jr., sought sole authority from Congress to cancel the elections if terrorists “disrupted” the process. Soaries told the press: “We have to err on the side of transparency to protect the voting rights of the country.” His “protection,” like that of the Florida state police and the FBI, is accomplished by making sure people don’t get to vote.

Stooping even lower, Jeb Bush’s people now ignore the law because of the “uncertainty” created by a hurricane. But here’s the catch. Circuit Judge Kevin Davey, who issued the injunction against putting Nader on the Florida ballots, is located in the state capital in Tallahassee, which is not in the path of Hurricane Ivan. Hence, there is no reason to cancel this week’s hearing and Davey could rule in plenty of time to meet the mailing deadline for absentee ballots. From terrorist threats to paperless electronic voting on machines manufactured and controlled by Bush supporter Diebold to harassment of black voters, apparently any tactic is justified to keep George Bush in the White House. In this case, the mere threat of a hurricane has blown away the rule of law and democracy in Florida—a state of disgrace.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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