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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 17:51 GMT
Bush's African-American challenge
Protester
African-American voters say they were disenfranchised
By BBC News Online's Kathryn Westcott

As George W Bush embarks on what he is calling a "healing process" after one of the most bitterly fought elections in modern US history, one of his greatest hurdles will be to overcome deep-seated hostility among African Americans to the Republican party.

Mr Bush began his bid for the presidency by demonstrating a desire to lessen this animosity.

Two of his top advisers, Stanford University's Condoleezza Rice and General Powell have been given senior posts.

In some sense his [Bush's] own legitimacy depends upon how he handles the first crisis

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson
He campaigned with retired Gen Powell - an African-American - and gave prominent speaking roles at the party convention to other African-Americans.

And he pleaded with the civil rights group, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), to "give me a chance to tell you what's in my heart".

'Intimidation'

Yet, on election day, only 8% of black voters went for Mr Bush - one of the worst records for a Republican presidential candidate.

The fact that their preferred candidate lost is all the more crushing because of claims that a number of incidents on polling day effectively led to the disenfranchisement of many voters.

Jesse Jackson
Jesse Jackson spoken to Mr Bush about the need to heal the nation
Claims range from intimidation by police checkpoints near polling stations to confusion that left some registered voters' names off the books.

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson says letters were sent to 8,000 Floridian voters telling them they were not allowed to vote because they were felons.

But, he says some 85% of those who got a letter were black non-felons. In Duval county, he adds, 18,000 of the 27,000 people removed from the electoral roll for various reasons were black.

Mr Jackson and Mr Bush spoke by phone about the "need to heal the nation".

Investigation

Mr Jackson - who called for demonstrations to coincide with either Martin Luther King Day on 15 January or Inauguration Day on 20 January - wants Mr Bush to take measures to prevent minorities from being disadvantaged at polling stations.

"In some sense his [Bush's] own legitimacy depends upon how he handles the first crisis. And that first crisis looms out of Florida, where thousands of people who voted, their vote was not counted," Mr Jackson told the MSNBC news station.

General Powell and Dick Cheney
General Powell (back) attended Bush campaign rallies
"You can't heal a wound unless you get the glass out. There's a lot of glass in Florida."

Other civil rights figures concur. Kweisi Mfume, president of NAACP says only an assurance that voters would not have their rights violated in the future could assuage those who feel that Mr Bush "stole the election".

He said nothing short of a "collective condemnation would foster a deeper belief in the minds of a lot of people that the nation did not care about them".

The Justice Department is conducting a preliminary investigation into the claims, while black organisations say they are preparing lawsuits against Florida and some of its counties.

Reaching out

The NAACP is also considering embarking on a voter registration drive ahead of the mid-term congressional elections in 2002 to ensure black voters continue to try to make their voice heard.

Calls by the group for people to vote helped create an unprecedented mobilisation effort among African-Americans in last month's vote.

voter
Black voters are beginning to realise their potential
In Florida, for example, black turnout in this election rose by 50% as compared to 1996.

A spokesman for Mr Bush, Ari Fleischer, has sought to play down the size of the gulf between Mr Bush and African-Americans. He says the president elect is committed to being a "different kind of Republican" and intends to govern in a way that will build confidence among black voters.

How far this will go to pacify black voters, remains to be seen. After all, General Powell's presence on the campaign trail failed to transfer into votes.

And black Democratic politicians have dismissed the possible appointments of General Powell as secretary of state and Ms Rice as national security adviser, as mere "window dressing".

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