NYTimes.com Article: Sacrifice and Sabotage
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Sacrifice and Sabotage
October 1, 2004
By BOB HERBERT
Viola Gregg Liuzzo is not a name that rings many bells
Mrs. Liuzzo, a white woman who lived in Detroit, was 39
years old, married and the mother of five when she decided,
early in 1965, to head south to volunteer her services in
the brutal struggle to get blacks the right to vote. She
told her husband it was something she just had to do.
She participated in the now legendary march along Route 80,
the Jefferson Davis Highway, from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
The march was led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When it was over, Mrs. Liuzzo offered to drive some of the
marchers back to Selma in her two-year-old Oldsmobile.
On the return trip to Montgomery on the night of March 25,
Mrs. Liuzzo was accompanied only by a black teenager. On a
desolate stretch of the highway, they were overtaken by a
car filled with enraged Ku Klux Klansmen and an undercover
F.B.I. agent. Mrs. Liuzzo was shot in the face and killed.
The car ended up in a ditch. The teenager survived by
pretending he was dead.
Last night's presidential debate was an important exercise
in American-style democracy. But democracy has no real
meaning when citizens qualified to vote are deliberately
prevented from casting their ballots, or are intimidated to
the point where they are too frightened to vote.
Disenfranchisement comes in many guises. Two professors at
the University of Miami did an extensive analysis of
so-called voter errors in Miami-Dade County that has not
previously been reported on, and that gives us an even more
troubling picture of the derailment of democracy in Florida
in the 2000 presidential race.
Bonnie Levin, a professor of neurology and psychology, and
Robert C. Duncan, a professor of epidemiology, said the
purpose of their study was to examine the demographics
associated with the uncounted votes in Miami-Dade, a county
that disqualified 27,000 votes.
Most of the public attention surrounding Florida's disputed
election focused on "under-votes," when machines failed to
record a vote for some reason - because of the notorious
dimples or hanging chads in punch-card ballots, for
Professor Levin told me yesterday that the study convinced
her that a much bigger problem in Miami-Dade involved
"over-votes," instances in which ballots were reported to
have been disqualified because individuals cast votes for
more than one presidential candidate.
In their analysis, the professors factored in variables
associated with increased errors, such as advanced age or
lower education levels. What they found startled them. The
instances of voter errors, after taking all relevant
variables into account, was much higher - higher than could
reasonably have been expected - in predominantly
African-American precincts. And, peculiarly, there was an
especially high amount of over-voting among blacks.
"Although African-American and Hispanic precincts are
similar in terms of household income and education, the
African-American precincts have many more over-votes and
under-votes," the professors wrote. "Interestingly, they
differ strongly in party affiliation (African-American
predominantly Democrat, Hispanic more Republican)."
Dr. Levin said she did not believe
these were the kinds of honest errors one would expect to
find in an analysis of voting patterns. Something else was
at work. "The data show that it was so specific to certain
precincts," she said. "It was so targeted toward
African-Americans. There was nothing random about it."
She said, "The most important finding was that education
was not a predictor for African-Americans."
Now, in the 2004 presidential election, we're already
seeing widespread vote-suppression efforts, from the failed
attempt by the Jeb Bush administration to use bogus, biased
lists of alleged felons to efforts in many parts of the
country to prevent the registration of new voters,
The people trampling on voting rights today are following
the same ugly tradition that resulted in the
disenfranchisement of millions of black Americans and led
to the murder of Viola Liuzzo and others.
At one time it was the Democratic Party that produced the
grandmasters in the art of disenfranchisement. Now that
torch has been passed to the Republicans. President Bush
could put a stop to it, but so far he's chosen not to.
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