Anatomy of a Coup
by Michael I. Niman
originally published by Buffalo Beat, January 11th, 2001
It was a few weeks after the presidential election. Naderites like myself were gleeful that, at least for the moment, neither Tweedle Dee nor Tweedle Dum were elected. Nader was vindicated by the establishment as The Wall Street Journal and others lined up to assure investors that there was no cause for alarm, a Bush presidency would be no different than a Gore presidency. The moment of indecision was not pivotal — there was no reason to panic.
Down in Florida the on again off again vote count was just restarted by the State Supreme Court. Florida’s Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, a co-chair of the Bush Campaign who earlier in the year traveled to New Hampshire to campaign for "W," and who was a former Bush delegate to the Republican convention, had done everything in her power to stop the vote count, leaving an early Bush victory margin of fewer than 600 votes in tact. Despite an obvious conflict of interest, Harris refused to recuse herself from the position of overseeing Florida’s election. To the contrary, she made no efforts to conceal her partisan goals and from the start, treating the presidential election as nothing more than a game of "steal the flag."
Gore Wins Florida by 23,000 Votes
Florida’s Supreme Court, on the other hand, overruled Harris and ordered that the hand count continue but also that it cease by an arbitrary deadline set by the court. It quickly became obvious to statisticians that if all the votes were counted, which given the fact that old vote-o-matic machines were tossing out up to 5% of the ballots, could only be done by hand, Gore would win Florida. The Miami Herald, as early as December 3rd, estimated that a recount would show Gore won Florida by 23,000 votes. Hence, from the start, the Bush plan was to run out the clock — to keep votes from being counted by any means necessary.
The counting resumed in a few select counties, including Miami Dade where Gore was expected to pick up thousands of uncounted votes. With over 10,000 votes still to be counted, however, an angry mob rushed through the halls of the county building, shouting, banging on walls and doors, and punching and kicking people. The Miami Dade canvassing board, shortly thereafter, announced it would cease it’s recount due to lacking the necessary time to complete it. This much we all saw on television — photos of angry mobs ransacking Miami are nothing new.
White Riot and Wayne Newton "Shut it Down"
What was different about this mob, we later learned. This was not your run of the mill Miami crowd. The rioters, who many credit with stopping the recount, were actually paid Republican congressional staffers and Bush campaign operatives recruited by House Majority Whip, Tom DeLay, who incidentally made numerous media statements accusing the Gore forces of "stealing the election.". At the county building they were under the direction of New York Republican Congress Representative, John Sweeny, who reporters heard shout, "Shut it Down!" immediately before the melee broke out. When not out rioting, many of the yuppie thugs stayed at Miami area Hilton hotels at Bush campaign expense. For Thanksgiving, the GOP treated them to a full turkey dinner and a private concert by Wayne Newton.
The campaign to steal the White House began long before November 7th. Pundits, as early as four years ago, predicted that a close presidential election would come down to the Florida vote, with Florida being the largest state "up for grabs."
In 1999 Katherine Harris, as Florida’s Secretary of State, hired Database Technologies Incorporated to "cleanse" Florida’s election roles of convicted felons, who under Florida law, are disenfranchised from voting for life. DTI’s job, specifically, was to identify Florida residents who were convicted of felonies out of state and registered to vote in Florida. DTI, which since merged with ChoicePoint, a company with close ties to the Republican party, was paid $4 million in Florida state funds for this service.
In what DTI/ChoicePoint identified as a "minor glitch," 8,000 predominantly African American voters who never committed felonies were "mistakenly" removed from the voter roles, resulting in some of the election day chaos observed by the NAACP where wholesale numbers of black voters were turned away from polling places. With African Americans voting for Gore at rates of 80-92%, this glitch swung the election from Gore to Bush, who won the state by 154 votes.
Narco Traffickers and Texans
The story of the state paying a Republican company millions to in essence remove black voters, who would otherwise vote overwhelmingly for Gore, from the voter rolls is certainly strange enough, but it gets funkier. DTI’s contracts with the FBI were suspended in 1999 because the company’s founder has suspected ties to narcotics traffickers, hence, DTI was forced to rely on individual states for their logs of felons. DTI blames the Florida "mistake" primarily on faulty information supplied to them by none other than George W. Bush’s Texas state government.
If the purpose of cleansing the voter rolls was to disenfranchise the African American vote in Florida, it was just the tip of the iceberg. On election day, machinery was literally in place to ensure that a disproportionate amount of black votes would never be counted. Republican Brevard County, for example, spent approximately $1 million in 1999 to replace their antiquated punch card vote tabulating machines with new optical scanning machines in time for the presidential election. The new machines count 99.7% of votes cast. The older punch card machines, by comparison, only counted 97.2% of the votes. Hence, the new machines, according to Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, statistically speaking, added an additional 453 votes to the Bush count.
Statewide, inefficient punch card machines are more commonly deployed in poor and minority populated counties then in counties that are white and affluent, resulting in far mor votes being discarded in predominantly black Gore leaning voting precincts. In Florida’s most populous county, Miami Dade, for example, votes in predominantly African American precincts were discarded at a rate four times that of white precincts. According to the New York Times, one out of every 11 presidential ballots cast in predominantly black sections of Miami registered no vote, resulting in 9,904 uncounted votes. Likewise, according to the Jacksonville Times-Union, 19% of the presidential votes, totaling some 27,000 votes, were not tabulated in four predominantly African American districts in Jacksonville. Of the votes that were tabulated, 80% were cast for Gore.
The Miami Herald, in investigating the two Miami precincts with the highest discard rates, found that 13 of the 20 vote tabulating machines used failed a test conducted immediately before the polls opened, yet were not replaced as required by law. Overall, according to The Washington Post, black Miami Dade voters were 15 times more likely than white voters to have their presidential vote not count.
The New York Times reported that Florida election officials gave laptop computers to election officials so they could quickly access the state’s voter rolls, yet only one of these computers went to a predominantly African American precinct. Voters in precincts without the laptops often did not get to vote if their names were missing from the printed rolls.
Blacks were also systematically denied the right to vote or harassed at polling places across Florida. The NAACP gathered testimony from 486 African Americans who allege that they were denied the right to vote in the presidential election. The NAACP and local media organizations also collected stories about poll workers demanding unnecessary photo identification from black voters, black voters singled out for criminal background checks and police roadblocks near predominantly black polling places.
Gore Silent on Racism Issue
To their discredit, the Gore campaign choose to remain silent about the wholesale disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida, even though it clearly cost them the election. Of the many lawsuits raised by the campaign, none dealt with the issue of racism and black voter disenfranchisement. Observers believe that the Democratic party did not want to raise the issue for fear of alienating the few conservative, dare we say racist, white voters in the south who still vote Democratic. Considering that Florida is the only southern state Gore won, and he only won it because of strong back voter turnout, this plan is not only ethically bankrupt and cowardly, it’s plain foolish as well.
If the specter of vote counting machines tossing out ballots and voters being "cleansed" from the voting rolls is not shocking enough, the Bush forces really went to town when it came to stuffing the ballot boxes with absentee votes.
Republicans in Florida, and throughout the south, for that matter, have a long history of manipulating absentee ballots for electoral gain. With upwards of 8% of Florida’s population voting with absentee ballots, they often provide the margin of victory or loss in close elections. The most recent scandal occurred in 1998 in Miami, where a state court overturned a recent election and removed Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez from office. Suarez’s victory, it seems, came courtesy of tampered ballots.
Suarez, far from hanging his head in shame and slithering off to a life of used car sales, has remained in politics and has since been elected to the Executive Committee of the Miami Dade Republican Party. For the presidential election, he was back to old tricks handling absentee ballots, as part of a Republican team who, according to the Miami Herald, collected absentee votes door to door, often "helping" to fill out the ballots for voters. By law, absentee ballots are supposed to be returned via the post office, not hand delivered by campaign workers. The Herald reports that this illegal operation netted 500-600 votes. Given this operation on the ground in Miami, it should also come as no surprise that before the Miami Dade recount was stopped with just 22% of the votes counted, they had already discovered over 100 illegal votes, including one cast by a dead man
Fixing or Trashing Ballot Applications
In Seminole County, the Democratic and Republican Parties printed and mailed absentee ballot applications to registered voters in their parties. The applications were already filled out, requiring voters to simply sign the forms and drop the postage paid cards into a mailbox. The printers for both parties, however, made mistakes on the forms, rendering them invalid. As the invalid forms began to arrive at the Republican controlled Seminole County Board of Elections,
election workers separated out the Democratic absentee applications from the Republican ones, putting the Democratic applications in the trash, while allowing Republican campaign workers to correct the flawed Republican applications.
Elections Supervisor Sandra Goard, a Republican, allowed Republican Party workers unsupervised access to the board of elections offices and files for 15 days as they completed the incomplete applications despite a Florida law that makes such tampering by anyone other than a family member or legal guardian of the voter, a felony.
The Republican workers were completing the applications by entering voter identification numbers that were left off of the forms by the printer and not filled in by the voters. As it turns out, however, many of the numbers illegally entered by the Republican team were, in fact, incorrect, rendering the altered ballot applications still invalid. Goard, in her zeal to help her party, was still not discouraged, and ordered elections workers to process Republican applications without the necessary number. Democratic and third party applications with missing information were still tossed. In all, over 2,000 tainted Republican application were precessed, resulting in 1,936 votes, with 95% going to Bush for a net gain of approximately 1,840 votes.
Ballot Forms Head Home With Ex-CIA Agent
In Martin County, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Republican controlled elections board did Goard one better, and actually allowed Republican campaign workers, led by ex-CIA agent Charles Kane, to remove absentee ballot applications from the elections office and tamper with them in the privacy of their own homes.
The Republican controlled elections board in Okaloosa County forwent the whole sloppy process of applications and simply sent unsolicited ballots to the county’s overwhelmingly Republican voters. 20% of the Okaloosa vote was absentee, with Bush getting 81%, an advantage of 8,600 votes.
While the crux of the Republican objection to completing a count of the votes was that hand counts were arbitrary and should not count, four heavily Republican Counties including Goard’s Seminole County, quietly went ahead with their own hand counts, netting Bush an additional 185 votes.
Nassau County, however, takes the prize for gall. Forget the arguments over hand counts. The folks in Nassau County, without any explanation, threw out the initial [state] constitutionally mandated machine recount, instead reporting the original incorrect tally to Katherine Harris. Harris, of course, certified the incorrect vote without explanation, netting Bush ans additional 51 votes.
Then there was the now famous, bizarre butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County. Counting punch holes down from the top, it read in this order: Bush, then Buchanan, then Gore. By law, the Democrats are supposed to occupy the second, and not the third, line, which they in fact did in the column printed on the left of the punch holes, with Buchanan first on the right. Democrats started complaining as early as 7AM on election day, but it was too late, as democratic elections officials had earlier signed off on the ballot layout. The ensuing confusion resulted in 20,000 presidential votes discarded with thousands more mistakenly going to Buchanan. This is one of the few chapters in this sordid tale that received a big splash in the national media.
In the end, the Republican operation on the ground in Florida seemed to be failing, with the State Supreme Court reinstating the hand count and Gore quickly picking up the vote needed to claim victory. In comes the Republican controlled Florida State Legislature. With a Gore victory looking likely, they started the machinery to usurp the popular vote in Florida and appoint their own slate of Bush electors. This brazen move threatened to spin the nation into a constitutional crisis, with two sets of electors, those elected and those appointed, showing up in Washington to represent Florida in the Electoral Congress.
Supremes Protect "Legitimacy of [Bush’s] Election"
In stepped the Supreme Court. With the finesse of Katherine Harris, by a 5-4 vote they issued a stay ordering the count to stop immediately on December 9th shortly after it resumed, pending their deliberations on December 12th. Then on December 12th at 10 PM, they basically allowed the count to resume, but declared it had to end by midnight, two hours later, thus thwarting the count by first stalling it, then pointing out that there was no time to conduct it. The decision, according to Justice Stevens in his dissent, "effectively orders the disenfranchisement of an unknown number of voters." For the majority, this was their intent.
Both their deliberations and their final contradiction-ridden decision wouldn’t stand the muster of a high school civics class mock trial. The vote tabulations had to stop on December 9th, according to Justice Scalia, who stated, "The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner [Bush], and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election." Take a breath and read this line again, as your grandchildren will in history books.
In other words, Scalia admitted that a recount would show Gore won the election and hence, would make it more difficult for Bush, the loser, to govern as president. Furthermore, the court was interceding in Florida’s count to protect the legitimacy of Bush’s election in the likely event that the same 5 justices would find in Bush’s favor on December 12th. It kind of takes your breath away.
Justice Stevens wrote, "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
The irony is that with all the "the supreme court is up for grabs" rhetoric launched by Gore in his bid to attract Nader votes, it was Gore himself who, as a senator, voted to confirm Scalia to the Supreme Court.
In the end, the Supremes decided that the nation was out of time. They set December 12th as the deadline despite the fact that the actual deadline for presenting electors is December 8th, and since Gore was standing when the music stopped, he was out of the game. ‘Nuff said. Forget the fact that in the past, electors have been presented as late as January 4th, and forget the fact that according to The Washington Post, 21 other states did not present their electoral slates by the 12th as the Supreme court required of Florida. Let’s also forget that the court ruled Florida’s election illegal because different standards were used to determine votes in different counties even though Gore would win by any of the standards used. Let’s also forget that 33 other states use the same "clear intent of the voter" statute that the Supreme Court found unconstitutional in Florida. And let’s forget that while the Supreme Court found the varying methods of hand counting votes to be a violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution, they had no problem with the varying types of voting machines used which would invalidate votes at greatly differing rates.
While we’re in the business of forgetting things, let’s also forget that Justice Scalia’s son is an attorney for Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, the firm representing Bush before the court (we’ll also forget the same firm represented Nixon and Reagan). We also need to forget that Justice Thomas asked absolutely no questions during the proceedings and that his wife Virginia works for the Republican connected Heritage Foundation, collecting resumes from Republicans hoping for jobs in the Bush cabinet. We need to also forget about the 11 Democratic Senators who voted to confirm Thomas to the court. And we certainly need to forget that Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 1962 and 1964, as a young lawyer and Republican activist, worked as a poll watcher in Arizona intimidating African American and Mexican American voters by demanding that they read the entire constitution of the United States before voting as then required by state law. We need to forget that this action created hours-long lines and caused many perspective voters to give up on voting just as recent tactics in Florida have.
And while we are in the business of forgetting things — let’s also forget any notion we may have harbored that the US is now, or ever was, a Democracy. It’s sad that it took a Presidential election stolen in plain site to catalyze a democracy movement, but now that we have one, let’s get to work.
For additional articles by Dr. Niman about the 2000 election, see http://mediastudy.com/articles