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The Ethnic Cleansing of American Democracy

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  • Djehuti Sundaka
    http://www.sunspot.net/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.voting08may08,0,7994499.story?coll=bal%2Doped%2Dheadlines Jim Crow revived in cyberspace By Martin Luther King
    Message 1 of 1 , May 9, 2003

      Jim Crow revived in cyberspace

      By Martin Luther King III and Greg Palast

      May 8, 2003

      BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Astonishingly, and sadly, four decades after the
      Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched in Birmingham, we must ask again,
      "Do African-Americans have the unimpeded right to vote in the United

      In 1963, Dr. King's determined and courageous band faced water hoses and
      police attack dogs to call attention to the thicket of Jim Crow laws --
      including poll taxes and so-called "literacy" tests -- that stood in the
      way of black Americans' right to have their ballots cast and counted.

      Today, there is a new and real threat to minority voters, this time from
      cyberspace: computerized purges of voter rolls.

      The menace first appeared in Florida in the November 2000 presidential
      election. While the media
      chased butterfly ballots and hanging chads, a much more sinister and
      devastating attack on voting
      rights went almost undetected.

      In the two years before the elections, the Florida secretary of state's
      office quietly ordered the
      removal of 94,000 voters from the registries. Supposedly, these were
      convicted felons who may not
      vote in Florida. Instead, the overwhelming majority were innocent of any
      crime, though just over half
      were black or Hispanic.

      We are not guessing about the race of the disenfranchised: A voter's
      color is listed next to his or her
      name in most Southern states. (Ironically, this racial ID is required by
      the Voting Rights Act of 1965,
      a King legacy.)

      How did mass expulsion of legal voters occur?

      At the heart of the ethnic purge of voting rights was the creation of a
      central voter file for Florida
      placed in the hands of an elected, and therefore partisan, official.
      Computerization and a 1998
      "reform" law meant to prevent voter fraud allowed for a politically and
      racially biased purge of
      thousands of registered voters on the flimsiest of grounds.

      Voters whose name, birth date and gender loosely matched that of a felon
      anywhere in America
      were targeted for removal. And so one Thomas Butler (of several in
      Florida) was tagged because a
      "Thomas Butler Cooper Jr." of Ohio was convicted of a crime. The legacy
      of slavery -- commonality
      of black names -- aided the racial bias of the "scrub list."

      Florida was the first state to create, computerize and purge lists of
      allegedly "ineligible" voters. Meant
      as a reform, in the hands of partisan officials it became a weapon of
      mass voting rights destruction.
      (The fact that Mr. Cooper's conviction date is shown on state files as
      "1/30/2007" underscores other
      dangers of computerizing our democracy.)

      You'd think that Congress and President Bush would run from imitating
      Florida's disastrous system.
      Astonishingly, Congress adopted the absurdly named "Help America Vote
      Act," which requires
      every state to replicate Florida's system of centralized, computerized
      voter files before the 2004

      The controls on the 50 secretaries of state are few -- and the
      temptation to purge voters of the
      opposition party enormous.

      African-Americans, whose vote concentrates in one party, are an easy and
      obvious target.

      The act also lays a minefield of other impediments to black voters: an
      effective rollback of the easy
      voter registration methods of the Motor Voter Act; new identification
      requirements at polling
      stations; and perilous incentives for fault-prone and fraud-susceptible
      touch-screen voting machines.

      No, we are not rehashing the who-really-won fight from the 2000
      presidential election. But we have
      no intention of "getting over it." We are moving on, but on to a new
      nationwide call and petition drive
      to restore and protect the rights of all Americans and monitor the
      implementation of frighteningly
      ill-conceived new state and federal voting "reform" laws.

      And so on Sunday in Birmingham we marched again as our fathers and
      mothers did 40 years ago,
      this time demanding security against the dangerous "Floridation" of our
      nation's voting methods
      through computerization of voter rolls.

      Four decades ago, the opposition to the civil right to vote was easy to
      identify: night riders wearing
      white sheets and burning crosses. Today, the threat comes from partisan
      politicians wearing pinstripe
      suits and clutching laptops.

      Jim Crow has moved into cyberspace -- harder to detect, craftier in
      operation, shifting shape into the
      electronic guardian of a new electoral segregation.

      Martin Luther King III is president of the Southern Christian Leadership
      Conference. Greg Palast is
      author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, and his investigation of
      computer purges of black
      voters appeared in Harper's Magazine.
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