Ruling faulted by leaders

By Sue Pleming, Reuters, 12/14/2000

ASHINGTON - Civil rights groups voiced outrage yesterday over the US Supreme Court's ruling in favor of George W. Bush in the presidential race and pledged mass protests and lawsuits over alleged black voter exclusion.

Civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume criticized Tuesday's high court decision not to allow a recount of votes in Florida, which dealt a final blow to Democrat Al Gore in his White House race against Republican Texas Governor Bush.

Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told reporters he was extremely disappointed by the court's decision that had ''handed over'' the election to Bush without due process.

''The NAACP believes unequivocally that this issue of voter suppression and voter intimidation has severely affected this election, its outcome and the electoral process,'' Mfume said in a conference call with reporters.

Mfume said blacks were angered their votes had not be counted and the NAACP, the nation's largest and oldest civil rights group, would seek urgent remedies, both in court and in Congress, to make sure this ''nightmare'' never happened again.

''People of color are more energized and angrier than ever to make sure they are not counted out again,'' Mfume said.

Mfume said Bush's legitimacy would always be in doubt because of how he had won the election.

''I don't know if legitimacy is something Mr. Bush will ever gain,'' the NAACP leader said. ''He will be watched very closely, probably more closely than any president in recent history.''

''Anything short of a collective condemnation of what took place ... will only foster a deeper belief in the minds of the people that this nation does not care about them and their right to vote,'' Mfume said. ''That is a dangerous course to go down as it leads to anarchy and leads to division and distrust.''

Jackson, who made his own bid twice for the presidency, charged that blacks, who traditionally vote Democrat, had votes ''taken away'' from them in the Nov. 7 election due to a range of voter irregularities in Florida and elsewhere.

Jackson said Gore's legal options may have been reduced by the court ruling but civil rights leaders would continue their quest to get votes counted in Florida, which held the key 25 electoral votes needed to win the election.

In an interview with NBC's ''Today'' show, Jackson said there would be mass protests across America to coincide with either Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 15 to commemorate the slain civil rights leader or Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, when the new president will take office.

The NAACP, which spent an unprecedented $12 million getting out the black vote, would launch a massive 18-month effort on Jan. 15 to increase voter turnout and education for mid-term elections, Mfume said.

He said the NAACP and other civil rights and legal groups would launch several lawsuits before the end of the month to seek remedies for alleged voting irregularities.

The suits are intended to show voter intimidation, that polling sites were moved without timely notice or closed early and that there was a ''disproportionate'' purging of votes in predominantly black precincts in several Florida counties.

In addition, Mfume said he planned to speak to every governor to begin efforts immediately in their states to make sure the same problems did not occur again.

Mfume had caustic words for Attorney General Janet Reno who he said had not acted quickly to investigate voter irregularities.