Politics & Policy

The Florida Lie

A paranoid urban legend returns.

It’s already starting. Democrats are pumping up the volume on behalf of an insidious lie: Evil forces deliberately disenfranchised black voters in 2000, especially in Florida, and are already doing it again this year.

#ad#John Kerry has said, “Never again will a million African-Americans be denied the right to exercise their vote.” Jimmy Carter–who never hesitates to smear the country whose highest office he once occupied–has made similar noises. Hyperbolic Democratic honcho Terry McAuliffe will travel next week with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who never miss an opportunity to tell black audiences that the age of Jim Crow is still here when it comes to disenfranchisement.

The Kerry salvo about a million black voters is a wild extrapolation based on the falsehood that in 2000 blacks were disenfranchised in Florida and then assuming proportional numbers were disenfranchised in every other state. The million number is highly convenient since it is the threshold for a sound bite really to bite. Kerry, for instance, will never say on the stump that the economy has lost a net 600,000 total jobs during the past four years, sticking instead with a statistic that keeps the figure over a million.

What happened in Florida in 2000 is some voters spoiled their ballots, voting for two candidates or not making a discernible mark on their ballot. This happens in every election, but these mistakes were magnified in Florida because of the scrutiny that came with Bush’s 500-vote margin. Peter Kirsanow, a Republican member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and a one-man truth squad about the Florida controversy, estimates the rate of spoilage in Florida at roughly 3 percent.

That is similar to the 2.6 percent rate in 1996, when Democrats failed to scream about disenfranchisement. The spoilage rate in heavily Democratic Chicago in 2000 was almost 6 percent, double that of Florida. The sad fact is, according to Kirsanow, ballots tend to be spoiled more in low-income areas (white or black), areas where many people haven’t graduated high school, and areas where there are a large number of first-time voters.

Democrats took this sociological datum, which applies everywhere around the country, and spun from it a conspiracy theory in Florida–blacks were kept from voting, “disenfranchised.” The first problem with this feverish notion is that the county supervisors who conduct the elections and would have had to do all the disenfranchising in the black areas with high rates of spoilage were almost all Democrats.

The more specific allegations of attempts to disenfranchise blacks are paranoid urban legend. No one has produced any evidence of the dogs and hoses some activists have said were used to keep blacks from the polls–and if Bull Connor had really been loose in Florida, people would have noticed. Another allegation involves the so-called “felon purge list,” which was meant to keep felons from voting. It had significant errors and hindered some legitimate voters at the polls, but the list wasn’t a deliberate racist act. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 42 percent of the people on the list were black. But 48 percent of convicted felons in Florida are black. It turned out that roughly 6,000 felons correctly on the list were allowed to vote illegally anyway.

Kerry et al. want to play on the primal fears of black voters, convincing them that the American electoral system is fundamentally corrupt. The 2004 election has, therefore, achieved the status of being pre-stolen–if Bush wins, he ipso facto stole it. A Democratic National Committee manual instructs activists, in the true spirit of Florida 2000, to allege voter intimidation even in the absence of evidence. Right on cue, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has floated wispy tales of the harassment of black voters in Florida.

All of this is so tawdry. But nothing is beneath hucksters who know that the positive merits of Kerry are so uninspiring that they have to resort to gutter tactics to try to get him elected, lying to black voters in the process.

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c)2004 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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