206,400 African-Americans Denied Right to Vote in Florida Presidential Election

by Michael I. Niman
Special to The Challenger (originally published Nov 15th, 2000)

With the eyes of the nation are focused on the recount in Floridaís absurdly close presidential election, few media outlets are mentioning the approximately 206,400 African-American men who, under Florida law, are denied their right to vote.

Florida law states that convicted felons are denied the right to vote for the duration of their life, even if they never are sentenced to prison. Only those with a gubernatorial order from Governor Jeb Bush may vote. In Florida, where both urban and rural black communities are besieged with the chronic ills of poverty, and where arcane drug laws cause African-Americans convicted of non-violent drug offenses to be convicted of felonies at a rate much greater than that of the white population, this disenfranchisement of voters has crippled the political power of the black electorate.

While statewide, almost 6% of Floridaís population is denied the right to vote, a shocking figure in its own right, among black males, that number is over 31%. Almost one in three black men in Florida is barred from the voting booth. The effects of this policy are catastrophic for blacks in Florida with African-American communities stripped of their political power.

This year, either by chance or by divine intervention, the most important election in the world, that of the US presidency, has turned out to be just one more of those close Florida elections.

At this moment George W. Bush leads Al Gore by a margin of just over 300 votes, putting Floridaís anti-democratic elections, replete with police harassment of black voters, bizarre paper ballots and strange counts, into the global limelight.

Currently, the Democratic party is crying foul over 19,000 ballots which were not counted in Palm Beach County and an additional 2,000 or so ballots where Gore supporters might have voted for the wrong candidate.

Missing from this discussion is mention of the 206,400 black men denied their right to vote, a number that is 10 times that of the ballots in question in Palm Beach. Doing the math, this amounts, by the most conservative estimates concerning voter apathy, to at least 50,000 voters on election day. With over 90% of black voters casting their ballots for Gore, this translates into 45,000 Gore votes lost in a state where Bush is claiming victory based on a 400 lead (and an ABC news anointment).

If Bush wins, it is only because blacks were not allowed to vote.

There is irony here for Al Gore. Many of those black men barred from voting were arrested during the Clinton/Gore administrationís drug wars which often favor incarceration over treatment for people with chronic drug problems. This conservative "get tough" approach to the nationís drug epidemic, while opposed, for example, by Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, is supported by both Al Gore and George W Bush. It was Goreís support of this drug war, which disproportionally hurts black men, that in the end may cost him the presidency ó as too many traditional democratic voters are either in jail or denied the right to vote as convicted felons.

Florida is not alone when it comes to the wholesale disenfranchisement of black male voters. Currently, in seven states, at least one in four black men is denied the right to vote (see Human Rights Watch). This electoral disenfranchisement of those convicted of a crime is unique to the United States. No other so called democracy disenfranchises voters for life.

In fact, many countries such as France, Israel, Poland, Norway, Zimbabwe, Japan, Kenya and a host of others, grant voting rights to felons even while they are in prison. Germany goes as far as to encourage prisoners to vote as part of their "rehabilitation."

The lifetime disenfranchisement of voters in the US is not about crime deterrence or even punishment. In plain simple terms, itís about political power. Itís about stealing peopleís right to vote -- a political art form as old as voting itself. In todayís war on drugs, which many people see as a war on communities of color, this is the booty.

No matter which candidate claims the presidency, letís never forget the 204,600 black men in Florida, and the 1.3 million black men in other US states, who are denied the right to vote by both Democrats and Republicans.