St. Petersburg Times Online: Election 2000
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Black voters' laments ignored, activists say

At a statehouse rally, blacks say affluent whites' problems at the polls get most of the attention.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- As the political maelstrom in Florida's Capitol raged Wednesday, African-American leaders complained that their voices are being left out of the national debate.

The faces on the television, delivering the breathless analyses of the election's twists and turns, are mostly white, said civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

"None of them on the TV has lost a vote. They did not have to march to get a vote," Jackson told reporters after speaking at a statehouse rally that drew several thousand people who want Florida's votes recounted. "We've just had the right to vote for 35 years, so we're not tired yet."

Black leaders also criticized Gov. Jeb Bush, who created an uproar this year when he unveiled One Florida, a plan that eliminated most state affirmative action policies. Wednesday marked the fourth time civil rights leaders have protested at the Capitol since Jeb Bush took office.

"What triggered this was when Jeb Bush was audacious enough to kill affirmative action," Jackson said.

The governor defends One Florida and says minorities are better represented in state appointments and state business now than in years past.

On Wednesday, Jeb Bush responded to Jackson's attacks: "This is all politics," the governor said. "Any objective analysis of what we've done, I think people will say: "Job well done.' But in this kind of climate right now? In Tallahassee? On this day? There ain't no way. And I understand it. It's politics."

Jeb Bush, whose term ends in 2002, is particularly vulnerable among black voters. The election controversy has heightened the tension. Exit polls indicate high voter turnout among blacks this year: as much as 16 percent of the Florida electorate, compared with about 10 percent in the last presidential election. Most black votes -- 93 percent -- went to Vice President Al Gore, with Texas Gov. George W. Bush getting just 7 percent. Jeb Bush had won about twice as many black votes when he ran for governor, an indication that his One Florida policy may have hurt his brother in Florida.

Black leaders complain that the high black turnout was for naught. Wednesday, members of the Legislature's black caucus -- all Democrats -- said they are ashamed of Florida in the wake of widespread reports that many black residents were denied the right to vote on Election Day.

The courts and the news media are focusing on what happened among white voters in Palm Beach County, but giving scant attention to problems reported by black voters in Gadsden County and other places where blacks were denied the right to vote, the lawmakers said.

"The limelight is focusing on the issues where there is more caviar, with $600-an-hour attorneys brought into the state to portray Florida as they want to," said state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee. "Our people don't have the money to come in and demonstrate. They are poor people who wanted to share the American dream and marched down to their precincts on Nov. 7 to vote and were denied the right to vote."

The lawmakers want a study of the problems, a statewide uniform ballot and other measures to guarantee each ballot is counted in future elections. Jackson and the black lawmakers called on the Department of Justice to investigate irregularities in black precincts.

State Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, said minority precincts across Florida often are saddled with the oldest and most out-of-date voting equipment and minority voters are stopped by police near voting precincts.

Henry Williams, a 67-year-old black man who cast his first vote in segregated Miami in 1955, boarded a bus at 2 a.m. to get to the Tallahassee rally.

"We fought so long and so hard and got killed and beaten up to earn the vote," Williams said. "Then, when we vote, it doesn't count. That's why we're here."

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