George W. Bush’s being awarded the presidency over Al Gore in 2000 marked one of the most astonishing outcomes in the nation’s voting history. On the night of the election, it was unclear who had won because the results from Florida were in doubt. It took a month for a decision to be announced but only after a heated dispute over ballot recount was resolved 5-4 by the United States Supreme Court.
Confusion reigned after Roger Stone, a Republican operative, led a physical assault on the recount efforts of the Miami-Dade County elections ofﬁce, protesting “a leftwing power grab by Gore the same way Fidel Castro did in Cuba.” This is the same Roger Stone who was sentenced this year to 40 months in prison for making false statements, witness tampering and obstruction in connection with the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, one of his operatives; Trump commuted the sentence on July 10. This is the same Roger Stone who, on Friday, called on Trump to declare “martial law” and seize power if he loses re-election.
The upshot of the Stone antics and the Supreme Court’s interference was that Bush emerged with a 537-vote majority — a margin of 0.0009 percent — and an Electoral College count of 271, just one more than the 270 needed for victory.
Two other elections also probably strengthened the belief that Florida is a decisive state in electing the president. In 2018, then Republican Gov. Rick Scott defeated incumbent Democratic United States Sen. Bill Nelson by 10,033 or onetenth of one percent of the eight million votes cast. Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis edged out Democrat Andrew Gillum in the race to replace Scott by 4,043,723 votes to 4,076,186 or 0.4 percent.
Dexter Filkins, writing in The New Yorker on September 7, recalled that Scott headed Columbia/HCA Healthcare when the company was ﬁned $1.7 billion to settle charges of defrauding Medicare. Scott, who was not indicted, resigned, with a net worth of more than $200 million “and ﬁnanced his run for governor largely with his personal fortune.”
There is also the state’s political makeup: 13,536,830 registered voters comprising Democrats, 4,986,520; Republicans , 4,761,405; and independents, 3,841,359. But those ﬁgures do not tell the whole story because widespread voter suppression has made it impossible for nearly one million exfelons from registering to vote and tens of thousands of others from actually casting their ballots.
At the end of Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws including a life-time voting ban on ex-felons “made it virtually impossible for Black people to vote . . . From 1888 to 1968, not a single Black person was elected to the Florida legislature,” Filkins noted. The ban has prevented “one out of every ﬁve” African Americans from voting and it was not until 2018. A constitutional amendment, which nearly 65 percent of voters approved, sought to restore the franchise to them.
But the Republican-controlled Legislature passed laws requiring that the ex-felons must pay all sentence-related fees before they can even register to vote. Despite this imposition being widely regarded as an unconstitutional poll tax, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Friday reversed a judge’s ruling that voided the law. As a result, about 800,000 Floridians are unlikely to be able to vote in the November 3 presidential election.
Prior to the passage of Amendment Four, ex-felons could win back the franchise only by petitioning the governor, who has sole discretion on the matter and that power has been wielded in a partisan manner. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, approved 55,000 petitions in his four years in ofﬁce but Republican Jeb Bush granted 76,000 in eight years. Scott approved only 3,000, also over eight years, which is signiﬁcant in that Scott won a Senate seat by only 10,000 votes.
Suppression tactics such as illegally purging voter lists, curtailing early voting time and reducing the number of voting precincts have been prevalent. The state hired Database Technologies to scour the lists for ex-felons in advance of the Bush/Gore matchup. This was a company that “was founded by Hank Asher, a former cocaine smuggler and a self-taught computer entrepreneur who sometimes consulted with Rudolph Giuliani on anti-terrorism ventures,” Filkins reported.
Database Technologies produced a list of 60,000 names, including those of exfelons from 10 other states, infants and the dead, David Klausner, a computer forensics expert, told Filkins. Klausner estimated that 40 percent of the people on the list were African Americans. Still, then Secretary of State Katherine Harris sent it to all 67 counties, “advising them to purge the names from voter rolls.” An outcry that followed the election forced Database Technologies to review the list and it “admitted that at least 20,000 voters had been improperly flagged – roughly 40 times the number of votes separating Bush and Gore,” Filkins said.
With regards to early voting, Filkins quoted James Greer, then chairman of the state Republican Party, as telling a newspaper, “It’s done for one reason and one reason only . . . because early voting is not good for us.” The Republicans zeroed in on the “Souls to the Polls” initiative in which pastors of African American churches lead their congregations to the precincts on the two Sundays prior to an election, mostly beneﬁting Democrats. It also went after mail voting, long before Trump made it a campaign issue.
African Americans should note that, in 2018, only 41.4 percent of them voted, compared with 53.4 percent of whites. It is a truism that when a voter does not cast a ballot, that is one less vote the other party has to be worried about.