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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

USA: Color of Election 2000

USA: Color of Election 2000
Date distributed (ymd): 001213
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains a background analysis from Colorlines magazine (, entitled 'The Structure of White Power and the Color of Election 2000,' and a statement from former civil rights workers on the election. The prospects for U.S. Africa policy are fundamentally related to the structural racism embedded in the 'democracy deficit' of the U.S. political system, as laid out in this posting.

A related posting today contains a commentary by Salih Booker on the prospects for Africa policy under a Bush administration.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

December 7, 2000

The Structure of White Power and the Color of Election 2000

By Bob Wing <>

Bob Wing is executive editor of ColorLines and a longtime fighter for racial and economic justice.

Bob Wing, Editor
ColorLines Magazine
3781 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612
510-653-3415 (ph); 510-653-3427 (fax);

What if there was an election, and nobody won?

Thank you, Florida, for exposing as fraud the much-vaunted sanctity of the vote in this country and placing electoral reform back on the country's agenda. It turns out that a real election has more votes disqualified, miscounted, or lost than the margin of error of a well-designed poll. More importantly, the botched election exposed that voting discrimination in Florida was widespread and that racism is institutionally structured into the two-party, Electoral College system.

Reports out of Florida show that people of color cast a disproportionate number of the disqualified votes. On election day, black and Haitian voters were harassed by police, their names removed from the rolls, and their ballots left uncounted by outdated machines. Thirty-five years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, racist violations of election law are rampant and should be pursued to justice in Florida and elsewhere.

But beyond these immediate issues, this election reveals again just how central race is to U.S. politics and how racism is actually structured into election law. The election reaffirms that people of color are the most consistent liberal/progressive voters in the country and that their clout is increasing -- but that electoral racism effectively nullifies almost half of their votes. The Civil Rights movement destroyed the monopoly over power by whites, but the tyranny of the white majority is still institutionalized in the winner-take-all, two-party, Electoral College system.

Unless we place fighting electoral racism at the top of the racial justice agenda, we cannot challenge the political stranglehold of conservative white voters or maximize the growing power of people of color.

By the Numbers

The idea that race and racism are central to American politics is not just a theory that harkens back to the days of slavery. It's a current-day lived reality that is particularly evident in this country's biggest and most sacred political event: the quadrennial presidential pageant.

In Election 2000, 90 percent of African Americans voted for Gore, as did 63 percent of Latinos, and 55 percent of Asians. (No exit poll data on the Native American vote is available, but most have historically voted Democratic.) Combined, people of color accounted for almost 30 percent of Gore's total vote, although they were only 19 percent of voters.

Latinos, the country's fastest growing voting bloc, went heavily Democratic -- even in Texas -- despite extensive efforts by the Republicans to sway them. Most Asians followed suit. People of color are becoming a larger portion both of the U.S. population and of the electorate, and voting largely in concert with each other in presidential elections.

On the other hand, whites constituted almost 95 percent of Bush's total vote.

Conventional electoral wisdom discounts race as a political factor, focusing instead on class, the gender gap, union membership, etc. But, the only demographic groups that had a fairly unified vote -- defined as 60 percent or more for one of the candidates -- were: blacks, Latinos, Jews (81 percent for Gore), union members (62 percent for Gore), residents of large cities (71 percent for Gore), and white males (60 percent for Bush). All but union members and big-city residents are racial or ethnic groups.

And, the large numbers of people of color in unions (about 25 percent) and big cities largely account for the heavy Democratic vote of those demographic groups. White union members and city dwellers vote to the left of whites who live more racially isolated lives, but they barely tilt Democratic. Similarly, women voted 54-43 for Gore, but white women actually favored Bush by one point. Women of color create the gender gap.

The same can be said of the poor: although 57 percent of voters with incomes under $15,000 voted for Gore, poor whites -- who make up just under half of eligible voters in this category -- broke slightly for Bush. The income gap in presidential politics is thoroughly racialized. As the sociologist William Form pointed out long ago, if only a bare majority of white working class people voted consistently Democratic, we could have some kind of social democracy that would provide much more social justice than the conservative regimes we are used to.

Despite the pronounced color of politics, Ralph Nader (and his multi-hued progressive pundits) blithely dismiss the fact that he received only one percent of the votes of people of color and that the demographics of his supporters mirrored those of the Republicans (except younger). In The Nation, Harvard law professor Lani Guinier points out that more votes were considered "spoiled" -- and therefore disqualified -- than were cast for the so-called "spoiler," Ralph Nader.

Electoral College: Pillar of Racism

The good news is that the influence of liberal and progressive voters of color is increasingly being felt in certain states. They have become decisive in the most populous states, all of which went to Gore except Ohio, Texas, and (maybe?) Florida. In California an optimist might even envision a rebirth of Democratic liberalism a couple of elections down the road, based largely on votes of people of color.

The bad news is that the two-party, winner-take-all, Electoral College system of this country ensures, even requires, that voters of color be marginalized or totally ignored.

As set forth in the Constitution, the Electoral College negates the votes of almost half of all people of color. For example, 53 percent of all blacks live in the Southern states, where this year, as usual, they voted over 90 percent Democratic. However, white Republicans outvoted blacks in every Southern state (and every border state except Maryland). As a result, every single Southern Electoral College vote was awarded to Bush. While nationally, whites voted 54-42 for Bush, Southern whites, as usual, gave over 70 percent of their votes to the Republican. They thus completely erased the massive Southern black (and Latino, Asian, and Native American) vote for Gore in that region.

Since the South's Electoral College votes go entirely to whichever candidate wins the plurality in each state, whether that plurality be by one vote or one million votes, the result was the same as if blacks and other people of color in the region had not voted at all. Similarly negated were the votes of the millions of Native Americans and Latino voters who live in overwhelmingly white Republican states like Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Montana -- and Texas. The tyranny of the white majority prevails. And the impact of the mostly black voters of Washington, D.C. is unfairly minimized by the unfair denied statehood and the arbitrary allocation to it of only three electoral votes.

In his New York Times op-ed, Yale law professor Akhil Amar reveals that the hitherto obscure Electoral College system was consciously set up by the Founding Fathers to be the mechanism by which slaveholders would dominate American politics.

The Constitution provided that slaves be counted as three-fifths of a person (but given no citizenship rights) for purposes of determining how many members each state would be granted in the House of Representatives. This provision vastly increased the representation of the slave states in Congress.

At the demand of James Madison and other Virginia slave- holders, this pro-slavery allocation of Congresspersons also became the basis for allocation of votes in the Electoral College. It is a dirty little secret that the Electoral College was rigged up for the express purpose of translating the disproportionate Congressional power of the slaveholders into undue influence over the election of the presidency. Virginia ended up with more than a quarter of the electors needed to elect a president, and Virginia slaveholders proceeded to hold the presidency for 32 of the Constitution's first 36 years.

Since slavery was abolished, the new justification for the Electoral College is that it allows smaller states to retain some impact on elections. And so it does, but to the benefit of conservative white Republican states. As Lani Guinier reports, in Wyoming, one Electoral College vote corresponds to 71,000 voters while in large population states (where the votes of people of color are more numerous) the ratio is one electoral vote to over 200,000 voters. So much for one person, one vote.

The Electoral College remains a racist mechanism that renders powerless the presidential votes of almost half of all people of color in the country. This year the Electoral College will apparently enable the winner of the conservative white states to prevail over the winner of the national popular vote -- a tyranny of the minority.

Two Party Racism

The two-party system also structurally marginalizes voters of color.

First of all, to win, both parties must take their most loyal voters for granted and focus their message and money to win over the so-called undecided voters who will actually decide which party wins each election. The most loyal Democrats are strong liberals and progressives, the largest bloc of whom are people of color. The most loyal Republicans are conservative whites, especially those in rural areas and small towns. The undecideds are mostly white, affluent suburbanites; and both parties try to position their politics, rhetoric, and policies to woo them. The interests of people of color are ignored or even attacked by both parties as they pander to the "center."

Another consequence is that a disproportionate number of people of color see no reason to vote at all. The U.S. has by far the lowest voter participation rate of any democracy in the world. The two party system so demobilizes voters that only about 65 percent of the eligible electorate is registered, and only 49 to 50 percent usually vote (far less in non-presidential elections).

Not surprisingly, the color and income of those who actually vote is skewed to higher income, older, and more conservative white people. In the 1996 presidential election, 57 percent of eligible whites voted compared to 50 percent of blacks and 44 percent of Latinos. Seventy-three percent of people with family incomes over $75,000 voted compared to 36 percent of those with incomes below $15,000.

In addition, current electoral law disenfranchises millions of mainly Latino and Asian immigrants because they are not citizens. And, according to Reuters, some 4.2 million Americans, including 1.8 million black men (13 percent of all black men in America), are denied the right to vote because of incarceration or past felony convictions.

Proportional Representation

To remedy these racist, undemocratic electoral structures, Lani Guinier and many others propose an electoral system based on proportional representation. Canada, Australia, all of the European countries except Britain, and many Third World countries have proportional electoral systems. In such systems, all parties that win a certain minimum of the popular vote (usually five percent) win representation in the Congress (or Parliament) equal to their vote. To win the presidency, a party must either win an outright majority or form a governing coalition with other parties.

Thus, for example, the German Green Party, which gets about seven percent of the vote, is part of the ruling coalition in that country. If we had such a system, parties representing people of color could be quite powerful. Instead, in our current system, voting for a third-party candidate like Nader takes votes from Gore and helps Bush. And someone like Jesse Jackson, who won 30 percent of the Democratic popular vote in 1988, is not a viable candidate and his supporters have virtually no clout in national politics.

If we fail to place fighting electoral racism at the very top of a racial justice agenda, we will continue to be effectively disenfranchised and white people, especially conservative white Republicans, will enjoy electoral privileges that enable them to shape the policies and institutions of this country at our expense. We must fight for a system of proportional representation, for eliminating the role of big money in elections, and for making voting readily accessible to poor folk.

Until we win a proportional system -- or unless there is some other major political shakeup -- the vast majority of people of color will continue to participate in the Democratic Party. Therefore we should demand that the Democrats more strongly represent their interests. We must fight the Democratic move to the right, led by people like Al Gore, or the majority of voters of color will be left to the tender mercies of the racist, pro-corporate rightwing of the Democratic Party. However, our ability to do this -- or to support or shape third parties that truly represent our interests and include our peoples -- depends upon our ability to form mass, independent racial justice organizations and to build alliances with other progressive forces both inside and outside the electoral realm.

Building electoral alliances -- around issues, referenda, and candidates, both inside and outside the Democratic Party -- is key to the maturation of a racial justice movement that functions on the scale necessary to impact national politics, social policy, or ideological struggle in this country.

Copyright (c) 2000 Bob Wing. All Rights Reserved.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

December 3, 2000

Contact: Mendy Samstein, 607-263-2476 or

Former Civil Rights Workers Demand Federal Voting Rights Investigation

Dozens of civil rights activists who worked in the South in the 1960s for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee today called for an official investigation into evidence that thousands of blacks were denied the right to vote in the 2000 presidential election.

In a collective statement, the activists, who were many times beaten and arrested while helping black citizens to register and vote, wrote: "We still mourn the colleagues and friends who lost their lives in the struggle. What is at stake here is precisely what we fought for in the Sixties - the right of everyone to vote and for everyone's vote to be counted."

Among the signatories of the statement is Julian Bond, a longtime SNCC activist and now chairman of the NAACP.

The statement cites accumulating evidence that a disproportionate number of blacks weren't permitted to vote because their names were not listed on voter lists, or because the polls closed while they were waiting on line; and that a disproportionate number of blacks voted in precincts with antiquated equipment so that their votes were not counted. Especially disturbing to these civil rights workers, many of whom in the 1960s experienced abuse and intimidation firsthand, was the odd coincidence of a roadblock set up by state police near a black Tallahassee precinct.

This statement concludes with a demand for a federal investigation and a national call that the exclusion of black voters must never happen again.

The SNCC statement was also endorsed by 300 participants in attendance on Dec. 2 at the Southern Human Rights Conference, as well as the Southern Regional Council and the American Friends Service Committee.

Mendy Samstein, a SNCC veteran of Jackson and McComb, Mississippi, said: "It's encouraging that the Justice Department is apparently starting an inquiry in Florida. We want a full-fledged Justice Department investigation into the many charges of voting exclusion. Mindful of the courage shown by journalists in the Deep South during the 1960s, we also hope that the press will vigorously investigate these charges."


The full statement and list of signers follow:

As activists in the 1960s struggle of black Americans to achieve voting rights, we believe that far more is at stake in Florida than choosing whether George Bush or Al Gore is to be our next president. In the sixties we fought to overcome a century of systematic and brutal disenfranchisement. Our cry was One Man, One Vote, a cry that resonated throughout this country because it appealed to the basic American sense of justice and fairness.

Today we need to remember the importance of that concept and the sacrifices that were made to ensure its realization. We still mourn the colleagues and friends who lost their lives in the struggle. What is at stake here is precisely what we fought for in the sixties-the right of everyone to vote and for everyone's vote to be counted. One Citizen, One Vote!

Substantial evidence is accumulating that many people were denied the right to vote. Was it just a coincidence that a State Police roadblock was set up near a predominately black precinct in Tallahassee that stopped voters going to the polls? We know that thousands of ballots were not counted in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties because machine counts of hand ballots are grossly inaccurate - despite all the hysterical Republican drumbeat to the contrary. We have increasing documentation of thousands of registered voters being turned away because their names were not listed or because their polls closed while they were waiting on line. These are voting injustices that must not be ignored.

We are horrified at the prospect that in the year 2000, we Americans would resign ourselves to the results of an election achieved by questionable and undemocratic means. We urge all Americans who believe in the sacredness of honest elections to support the legal battle for a full and fair counting of the votes in Florida and to demand a Justice Department investigation into incidents of voter irregularities. We must not let this happen again!

Sandra Adickes, Elaine Baker, Frances M. Beal, Debbie Amis Bell, James Bond, Julian Bond, Joan Browning, Ron Carver, Charlie Cobb, Nancy Cooper Samstein, Connie Curry, Dave Dennis, Betty Garman, Ira Grupper, Gene Guerrero, Ed Hamlett, Bruce Hartford, Casey Hayden, Faith S. Holsaert, Matt Jones, Marsha R. Joyner, Mary King, Dorie Ladner Churnet, Joyce Ladner, Julius Lester, Fred Mangrum, Sheila Michael, Mike Miller, Linda Moses Dehnad, Penny Patch, Bill Perlman, Martha Prescod, Judy Richardson, Wally Roberts, Howard Romaine, Dinky Romilly, Mendy Samstein, Cleve Sellers, Judy D. Simmons, Nancy Stearns, Marsha Steinberg, Barbara Summers, Susan Thrasher, Maria Varela, Penny Weaver, Carl Imiola Young, Dorothy M. Zellner, Zoya Zeman, Mitchell Zimmerman

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC provides accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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