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USA: Color of Election 2000
USA: Color of Election 2000
Date distributed (ymd): 001213
Document reposted by APIC
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+
+US policy focus+
This posting contains a background analysis from Colorlines
magazine (http://www.colorlines.com), 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.
December 7, 2000
The Structure of White Power and the Color of Election 2000
By Bob Wing <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Bob Wing is executive editor of ColorLines and a longtime fighter
for racial and economic justice.
Bob Wing, Editor
3781 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612
510-653-3415 (ph); 510-653-3427 (fax); email@example.com
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outdated machines.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
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
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
On the other hand, whites constituted almost 95 percent of Bush's
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
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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
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
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