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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com World Socialist Web Site www.wsws.org WSWS :
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 25, 2002
      Please send as far and wide as possible.


      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      World Socialist Web Site www.wsws.org

      WSWS : News & Analysis : North America
      Another Florida election debacle, and its political lessons
      By Patrick Martin
      16 September 2002

      On Tuesday, September 10, voters in the state of Florida went to the
      polls in the first statewide balloting since the disputed
      presidential contest of 2000. Several million people cast ballots to
      determine the Democratic and Republican candidates for the November 5
      general election, with most of the attention focused on the
      Democratic gubernatorial contest.

      Former US Attorney General Janet Reno, millionaire lawyer Bill
      McBride and state legislator Daryl Jones were the three Democrats on
      the ballot seeking the nomination to challenge incumbent Florida
      Governor Jeb Bush, the president's brother.

      Despite assurances from the Republican-controlled state government
      and Democratic-controlled local governments in south Florida that
      there would be no repetition of the 2000 election, when hundreds of
      thousands were denied the right to vote, the result of the primary
      election was another debacle.

      Preliminary results of the vote-counting showed McBride with 601,008
      votes, or 44.5 percent, and Reno with 592,812 votes, or 43.9 percent.
      Jones, a black state senator from Miami, had 156,358 votes, or 11.6
      percent. But the initial returns were immediately challenged by the
      Reno campaign, amid reports of widespread failures of new voting
      machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the south Florida region
      which was Reno's political base.

      Voters reported that many polling places were not open at 7 a.m., as
      required by state law. Local election officials—Democrats in both
      counties—blamed a poor turnout among the elderly volunteers who staff
      the precincts. They also cited problems in the operation of the new
      computer-based touchscreen systems adopted by most of the state's
      major urban counties. After the 2000 election, the state of Florida
      outlawed the punchcard ballots that had resulted in hundreds of
      thousands of overvotes and undervotes.

      In many precincts the county employees assigned to the job were
      unable to boot up the computers used to run the touchscreens and
      tabulate the votes. In others, the systems were mis-programmed,
      counting Republican ballots as Democratic, or vice versa. The Miami
      Herald cited the example of one precinct in the city that reported a
      total vote of zero for the entire day.

      McBride was leading Reno by 8,196 votes in the official canvass, just
      above the margin of 0.5 percent—6,751 votes—which would automatically
      force a statewide recount of voting machine totals. Reno requested
      the statewide recount immediately, citing reports of thousands of
      uncounted ballots in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, where she was
      winning 70 percent of the vote. The Republican-controlled state
      election commission denied the request.

      Local officials in Miami-Dade found more than 1,818 previously
      uncounted ballots in only four precincts, and were expected to locate
      thousands more in 81 other precincts being checked before the
      September 17 deadline for filing amended vote totals. Reno's aides
      also raised concerns about the results reported from 249 precincts in
      Broward County, where vote totals were unexpectedly low, suggesting
      that there was a problem in downloading data from the machines.

      These new figures could bring Reno within the margin required to
      force a statewide recount, or even put her narrowly ahead. Alan
      Greer, Reno's attorney, said that if the state election commission
      continued to refuse a recount under those circumstances, "I think
      they would be courting political suicide. I think this state would
      rise up in almost bloody revolution if she is treated that way."

      There are several political observations to make about this sequence
      of events, which revives memories of the month-long political crisis
      that culminated in the US Supreme Court intervention to suppress the
      vote-counting in Florida and award the presidency to George W. Bush.

      Reno's own candidacy embodies the decomposition of Democratic Party
      liberalism. It is extraordinary that a political figure whose record
      as attorney general included ordering the assault on the Branch
      Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, in which 80 people died, many of
      them small children, should be considered the "left" alternative
      among the Democrats, with her principal voting base among minority,
      gay and elderly voters in south Florida.

      The Clinton administration had the worst record on civil liberties of
      any recent American government except its successor, with Reno
      steadfastly supporting the expansion of federal wiretapping and
      surveillance powers. She also facilitated the right-wing conspiracy
      against the president who appointed her to head the Justice
      Department, most importantly when she agreed to allow Independent
      Counsel Kenneth Starr to expand his investigation of Whitewater to
      include Clinton's sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky.

      But Reno was considered too closely identified with the Clinton
      administration and liberal policies in relation to civil rights and
      gay rights for the Democratic Party establishment in Florida. When
      she returned to her home state—where she had been state's attorney in
      Miami-Dade County—to run for governor, the state party cast about for
      an alternative, eventually settling on McBride, managing partner of
      the state's biggest law firm and a longtime behind-the-scenes power
      in Democratic Party politics.

      While Reno had led by a wide margin in opinion polls earlier this
      year, McBride had the support of most state Democratic politicians,
      the state AFL-CIO and most Florida newspapers, and outspent Reno by a
      wide margin. He emphasized his service as a Vietnam War veteran,
      focusing on more conservative and rural areas in north and central
      Florida. By primary day, McBride was believed slightly ahead, with
      the outcome depending mainly on turnout in heavily populated south

      In the wake of the September 10 fiasco, McBride claimed victory, and
      publicly declined to embrace the slogan "count every vote," issued by
      the Democratic campaign in 2000 during the conflict over the
      presidential election. It was "time to get on with the election," he
      said, although he added, "We've had those problems before, where
      people appeared to be trying to take something that they didn't
      deserve. I'm not like that."

      Asked if this was a criticism of Bush, and if he was suggesting that
      Bush had not won Florida, McBride dismissed the question,
      saying, "I'm not going there. It's not part of our election."

      This exchange only underscores why the Democrats could not mount any
      serious opposition to the Republican theft of the 2000 election. The
      Democratic Party establishment is no more committed to the defense of
      democratic principles than the Republicans. They employed the same
      methods to suppress voter turnout that their Republican opponents
      carried out—with far greater effect—in 2000. They even targeted the
      same social groups—minority and largely working class voters in south
      Florida—for denial of voting rights.

      Republican spokesmen gleefully jumped on this example of hypocrisy on
      the part of the Democrats. A spokesman for Governor Jeb Bush
      denounced suggestions that he was responsible for the problems in the
      primary balloting. "That's just not an argument that's going to
      resonate," the Bush aide said. "It's going to be difficult for
      Democrats to capitalize on this by blaming the governor without
      reminding voters that the Democratic nominee, Bill McBride, didn't
      want all the votes counted."

      National Republican operatives made similar comments. Typical was the
      appearance of Alex Castellanos on the CNN program Crossfire September
      12. In response to criticism of Jeb Bush, Castellanos declared, "What
      you should do is tell about the Democrats' dirty little secret in
      Florida. And that's that the Democratic power brokers in Florida were
      warned that these two counties weren't getting ready months ago. And
      you know what? They did nothing. And you know why? Because this is
      Janet Reno's base, and they didn't want Janet Reno on the ballot."

      Program co-host Robert Novak, a vitriolic right-winger, added that
      the Democrats "had to undermine her vote in those two counties. Isn't
      that true?"

      Such comments are unintentionally revealing. It is no doubt true that
      the Democratic Party establishment in Florida deliberately, through
      inaction and failing to upgrade the electoral machinery, deprived
      thousands of their voting rights in the 2002 primary. By the same
      token, however, the denial of voting rights to hundreds of thousands
      in the 2000 election—due to antiquated machinery, poorly designed
      ballots, deliberate purging of minority voters from the registration
      rolls for a variety of false reasons, outright intimidation of
      minority voters on their way to the polls—was deliberate, and on a
      far larger scale.

      The Republicans, moreover, based their campaign to halt manual vote
      recounts, as ordered by the state Supreme Court, on the anti-
      democratic argument that the US Constitution did not ensure the right
      of the electorate to vote for US president.

      The defense of democratic rights cannot be entrusted to any section
      of the big business parties, Democratic or Republican. It requires
      the building of an independent political movement of the working
      class, which will have as one of its principal tasks the defense and
      extension of democratic rights, including the right to vote.

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