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Revisiting the 2000 Election Debacle
With the 2004 Presidential campaign looming, bitter memories of the controversial 2000 election are resurfacing, but the arguments are not as strident as they once were. With newspapers widely reporting that Bush would have won a recount, many people no longer bring up the subject. Pundits have effectively made any talk about "hanging chads" and confusing "butterfly ballots" seem like petty whining but, rather than ask whether or not the votes were counted fairly, some people have asked "Who was allowed to vote?" Given that voting is the core of our democracy, any threat to our right to vote should be viewed as one of the gravest assaults on our liberties.

Before delving into who was allowed to vote, though, consider the actions of the US Supreme Court. In a December 9, 2000 split decision, the Court ordered the recount stopped and remanded the case back to the Florida Supreme Court1, which again ordered a recount. In a dissenting opinion to the 5-4 decision, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote about the danger of the decision threatening the legitimacy of the election.

The people do not vote for the President. Instead, we vote for electors who in turn cast their votes for the President2. The 2000 Electoral College vote was scheduled for December 12. On that day, the Court again halted the recount and declared:
Because it is evident that any recount seeking to make the December 12 date will be unconstitutional . . . we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering the recount to proceed. . . .3

Thus, the Supreme Court halted the recount and then effectively awarded Bush the election by stating that the recount could not be completed on time. Several justices on the court had previously attempted to prevent the recount from being halted due to the question of legitimacy that would ultimately be raised about the election. However, we can also question the legitimacy of the Supreme Court justices themselves.

A judge presented with a case involving a conflict of interest (e.g., having stock in a company involved in the case or knowing the defendant), must recuse him or herself4. If this does not happen, a higher court will likely overrule the lower court's ruling. Antonin Scalia had two sons working for legal firms representing George Bush, and Clarence Thomas's wife had been hired to work on the Bush transition team5. Clearly one might question whether or not there is a conflict here. Had they recused themselves, the first vote would have been 4-3 against halting the recount and history may have been forever changed. However, because these are Supreme Court justices, no appeal is possible.

Turning aside from the question of the recount, let us consider the more serious question of who was allowed to vote. Months prior to the election, the Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, ordered the removal of almost 60,000 names from the Florida voting lists. Who were these people and why did Harris want their names removed?

Ostensibly, Harris was ordering that felons be removed from said list because Florida law prohibits felons from voting. However, the "scrub list" of names that Harris used was primarily comprised of people who had names similar to out-of-state felons6. This presents a constitutional problem. Article IV, Section I of the US Constitution reads "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State."7

Many states allow ex-felons to vote8 on the theory that serving your time is paying your debt to society. Regardless of whether or not we agree with this practice, it is illegal for Florida to deny a citizen's civil rights if the state that previously removed those rights subsequently restored them.

The scrub list of people who were to be denied the right to vote in Florida is a curious thing. It was distributed to counties prior to the 2000 Presidential election with instructions to remove voters on the list. The company that built the list, DBT Online, had originally recommended extensive cross-reference checks to ensure that the names were accurate. In Harris's office files, next to this suggestion, is a hand-written note: "don't need"9.

Many people who were denied the right to vote had similar names to convicted felons, had conviction dates listed far in the future, or had been pardoned of their crimes. Some estimates of the error rate in the scrub list run as high as 90%. In fact, the voter disenfranchisement was so widespread that the US Commission on Civil Rights looked into the allegations and found that many people had indeed illegally been denied the right to vote10.

The allegations of vote fraud in the Florida election are fairly substantial and readers are encouraged to research the information themselves, as this article has barely skimmed the surface of the charges. This is not mere partisan bickering. The disturbing information of the alleged crimes threatens the very basis of our democracy. Regardless of our political affiliation, the right to fully participate in the democratic process should not be infringed.

1=Sharply divided high court stops Florida recount
2=How the Electoral College Works
3=U.S. Supreme Court reverses recount ruling
4=U.S. Code : Title 28 : Section 455
5=Supreme Court Conflicts of Interest?
6=Winning the Election the Republican Way
7=US Constitution - Article IV - Section I
As a side note, this is also the reason why a Constitutional Amendment would be required to outlaw gay marriage. If one state grants such a right, other states would be bound by law to recognize it even if they outlaw such a marriage.
8=More states allow felons to regain vote, study finds
9=The Great Florida Ex-Con Game
10=U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Concludes that "NO COUNT" is Real Issue in Florida Vote
Read the full text of the finding (pdf)
11 Jan 2004 by Curtis "Ovid" Poe


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