Choking the Florida black vote

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist, 12/6/2000

S THE US SUPREME COURT acts as tourniquet to stop the flow of democracy and as a crusty circuit court judge slams into pulp the fingers that would actually count the ballots, evidence continues to emerge that George W. Bush will become president with voter blood left on the floor.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Saunders Sauls has ruled against manual recounts. The Supreme Court has vacated the Florida Supreme Court's extension of manual recounts. On the strictest or most cowardly notions of ''no credible statistical evidence,'' the courts are blessing the ramrodding of this election by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

The blessings come despite even more evidence in the past week that black votes are being left on the floor.

The Washington Post found that heavily Democratic and African-American precincts in Florida lost far more votes than other areas. In Duval County, while one in 14 ballots were thrown out in heavily white precincts, one in five ballots were disqualified in heavily black precincts.

In some black precincts in Jacksonville, one out of every three ballots were thrown out.

In Miami-Dade County, voters in heavily African-American precincts were three times more likely to have not recorded a vote for president than in precincts where black voters made up less than 30 percent of the population. The rejection rates were easily enough to have affected the outcome of the election.

Patronizing, if not racist, Republican strategists imply that black voters displayed a low IQ in the voting booth. ''The NAACP did a tremendous job of turnout in Florida,'' a Republican strategist told the Post. ''But in a way, they overachieved and got people out who couldn't follow instructions.''

The Republicans will not talk about how Florida suspiciously underachieved on Election Day. Black voters were far more likely than white voters to receive bad voting equipment.

The Post and The New York Times have both reported within the last week that black voters were more likely to have used punch-card ballots than white voters, while white voters had more access to voting on cards that went under optical scanners.

The Post found that about 34 percent of white Florida voters live in counties where the more modern equipment could immediately alert poll workers to ballot errors which could give those voters a second chance, compared to only 26 percent of African-American voters. The Post found that the overall rate at which voters cast ballots but did not vote for president was four times higher in punch-card counties - where there is no chance for an instant check - than in optical-scanner counties.

The Times also found that computer laptops that could have instantly cleared up voter registration problems at the polls were not distributed to heavily black precincts in Miami-Dade or the Tampa area. That left poll workers at the mercy of busy signals from county election headquarters. One poll worker at a heavily black precinct in Fort Lauderdale told the Times she turned away 100 people who said they were registered but whose names did not appear on voter lists.

''This was the first year we didn't get through,'' said the poll worker, Elease Williams, 72, who has been a clerk for more than two decades. ''I was so disgusted.''

The Times found that even though Gore won Miami-Dade, Bush won the precincts that were equipped with laptops. In Hillsborough County, which Bush won overall by 51-47 percent, his victory was 55-45 percent in precincts with computers.

In addition, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel last week found that one-third of 22,807 disqualified votes in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties came from from heavily African-American precincts. The Sun-Sentinel's analysis concluded that had those votes been counted, nearly 18,000 of those votes would likely have gone to Gore. Voters in heavily black areas of Palm Beach and Broward had their votes rejected at a rate more than twice as high as the rest of the counties.

It is an ever-diminishing prospect whether any of this can change this election. But the more evidence that comes out, the more stolen and stained would be a Bush presidency. Contrary to Sauls, there always was enough credible evidence to force a more patient, thoughtful, and thorough counting of the ballots.

The courts have spoken. The fingers of democracy are black and blue. At this moment, the American flag, flying behind the candidates as they speak, is less a symbol of freedom than a tourniquet.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is