NYTimes.com Article: Suppress the Vote?

From: Arthur Keller <arthur_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Mon Aug 16 2004 - 09:40:01 CDT

The article below from NYTimes.com

Suppress the Vote?

August 16, 2004

The big story out of Florida over the weekend was the
tragic devastation caused by Hurricane Charley. But there's
another story from Florida that deserves our attention.

State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly
black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an
odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters,
intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over
efforts to get out the black vote in November.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are
investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up
during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation,
other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They
said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and
acknowledged that it may continue right through the
presidential election.

"We did a preliminary inquiry into those allegations and
then we concluded that there was enough evidence to follow
through with a full criminal investigation," said Geo
Morales, a spokesman for the Department of Law Enforcement.

The state police officers, armed and in plain clothes, have
questioned dozens of voters in their homes. Some of those
questioned have been volunteers in get-out-the-vote

I asked Mr. Morales in a telephone conversation to tell me
what criminal activity had taken place.

"I can't talk about that," he said.

I asked if all the
people interrogated were black.

"Well, mainly it was a black neighborhood we were looking
at - yes,'' he said.

He also said, "Most of them were elderly."

When I asked
why, he said, "That's just the people we selected out of a
random sample to interview."

Back in the bad old days, some decades ago, when Southern
whites used every imaginable form of chicanery to prevent
blacks from voting, blacks often fought back by creating
voters leagues, which were organizations that helped to
register, educate and encourage black voters. It became a
tradition that continues in many places, including Florida,

Not surprisingly, many of the elderly black voters who
found themselves face to face with state police officers in
Orlando are members of the Orlando League of Voters, which
has been very successful in mobilizing the city's black

The president of the Orlando League of Voters is Ezzie
Thomas, who is 73 years old. With his demonstrated ability
to deliver the black vote in Orlando, Mr. Thomas is a
tempting target for supporters of George W. Bush in a state
in which the black vote may well spell the difference
between victory and defeat.

The vile smell of voter suppression is all over this
so-called investigation by the Florida Department of Law

Joseph Egan, an Orlando lawyer who represents Mr. Thomas,
said: "The Voters League has workers who go into the
community to do voter registration, drive people to the
polls and help with absentee ballots. They are elderly
women mostly. They get paid like $100 for four or five
months' work, just to offset things like the cost of their
gas. They see this political activity as an important
contribution to their community. Some of the people in the
community had never cast a ballot until the league came to
their door and encouraged them to vote."

Now, said Mr. Egan, the fear generated by state police
officers going into people's homes as part of an ongoing
criminal investigation related to voting is threatening to
undo much of the good work of the league. He said, "One
woman asked me, 'Am I going to go to jail now because I
voted by absentee ballot?' "

According to Mr. Egan, "People who have voted by absentee
ballot for years are refusing to allow campaign workers to
come to their homes. And volunteers who have participated
for years in assisting people, particularly the elderly or
handicapped, are scared and don't want to risk a criminal

Florida is a state that's very much in play in the
presidential election, with some polls showing John Kerry
in the lead. A heavy-handed state police investigation that
throws a blanket of fear over thousands of black voters can
only help President Bush.

The long and ugly tradition of suppressing the black vote
is alive and thriving in the Sunshine State.



Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA  94303-4507
tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424
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Received on Tue Aug 31 23:17:12 2004

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