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The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Tallahassee
"Many believe this is the rebirth of the black civil rights movement."
 real 28k

Thursday, 7 December, 2000, 01:58 GMT
Blacks sue in Florida
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson
Jesse Jackson alleges blacks were blocked from voting
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson joined several black political leaders from Florida on Wednesday in filing a lawsuit against a county election official, saying that the election board has prevented blacks from voting in the presidential election.

The suit alleges:

  • that the design of the ballot was confusing
  • that several black voters were turned away because they did not have voter ID or photo ID cards
  • that several black voters were not registered although they believed that they had registered when they applied for driver's licences.

Republican officials say the charges are unfounded, but the suit was the latest of several allegations that black voters faced unequal treatment in the election in Florida.

Racial targeting

In a news conference, Reverend Jackson said that people looking at the election in Florida would "see a pattern of racial targeting."

Florida Representative Corrine Brown joined Reverend Jackson in the lawsuit against the Duval County Supervisor of Elections.

More than 27,000 votes were discarded in Duval County. She said that of those 27,000 votes, 42% of them were cast by blacks.
Protestors in the Florida state capital
Protest leaders said that more than 20% of black votes were discarded in Duval County

"Overall, it is estimated that 20% of the African American presidential votes in Duval County were discarded," she said.

An analysis by the Washington Post showed that as many as one in three ballots was discarded in some black areas of Jacksonville, a city in Duval county.

The analysis found that was four times as many as in white precincts elsewhere in the county.

Representative Brown alleged that blacks were prevented from voting in several ways across the state.

"They include police roadblocks, being singled out for criminal background checks and being turned away from the polls because they lacked identification," she added.

Remember in November

Blacks turned out in record numbers for this election, according to Jim DeFede, a political columnist with the New Times in Miami.
Vice President Al Gore
More than 90% of blacks voted for Al Gore

In 1996, about 520,000 blacks voted in Florida, but close to 900,000 blacks voted in the recent election, he said. And an overwhelming 93% of blacks voted for Vice-President Al Gore.

Mr DeFede said that the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, and labour and civil liberties groups worked to register black voters, especially at traditionally black universities in Florida.

Organisers of the vote drive were able to feed off of anger in the black community against Governor Jeb Bush who had signed several executive orders ending affirmative action programmes.

Political organisers told the black community to "Remember in November".

Investigation needed

Following the election, the NAACP held hearings and documented 326 instances of suspicious activities. Mr DeFede urged full investigations into these allegations.
The FBI logo
The Justice Department is now investigating the election in Florida

He said that the US Justice Department should have got involved earlier and that the media has done little to investigate claims of discrimination against black voters.

Investigation and discussions are needed to determine whether these are matters of perception or a racist conspiracy, Mr DeFede said.

He gave the example of Adora Obi Nweze, the president of the Florida NAACP. She had expected to be busy getting out the vote on election day so had applied for an absentee ballot. It never came.

Determined to vote, she went early to her local polling place. The election worker told her she could not vote because records showed that she had received an absentee ballot. The election worker told her to leave.

Ms Obi Nweze told the election worker she had not received the absentee ballot and that she was entitled to sign an affidavit to that affect and vote. If records later showed that she voted twice, Ms Obi Nweze said she was open to prosecution.

She argued with the election worker and the polling site supervisor for an hour and a half. A call to local election officials finally confirmed that she could vote by signing the affidavit.

This might have been a simple case of bureaucratic red tape, or it might have been an example of racism, Mr DeFede said, adding an investigation might resolve the issue.

If the cases are not investigated, the black community might lose faith in the electoral process, he said.

Portia Palmer is the director of African American Outreach for the Republican Party in Florida. She has been working for the last 18 months to win black voters over to the GOP.

She said that there had been a lot of discussion about the charges of voter irregularities in black precincts, and she said, "The charges are unfounded."

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See also:

06 Dec 00 | Americas
Analysis: The legal battles
06 Dec 00 | Americas
Gore defiant as support slips
05 Dec 00 | Americas
Bush closes in on White House
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