Election Protection, the nonpartisan coalition of civil rights organizations that sent 25,000 poll monitors across the nation to ensure that registered voters could cast their ballots, received hundreds of reports of Election Day abuses.
Some were from voters who said they repeatedly pressed the "Kerry" button on their electronic voting screens, only to have "Bush" keep lighting up. Others said that though they pushed "Kerry," they were asked to confirm their "Bush" vote. There were calls about a Broward County, Fla., roadblock that denied voters access to precincts in predominantly black districts, and reports from hundreds who said they'd registered weeks before Florida's October deadline yet weren't on the rolls.
Why aren't more Americans exercised about this issue? Maybe the problem is who's being disenfranchised -- usually poor and minority voters. In a recent poll of black and white adults by Harvard University professor Michael Dawson, 37 percent of white respondents said that widely publicized reports of attempts to prevent blacks from voting in the 2000 election were a Democratic "fabrication." More disturbingly, nearly one-quarter of whites surveyed said that if such attempts were made, they either were "not a problem" (9 percent) or "not so big a problem" (13 percent).
Electronic, paper-trail-free voting is a danger to democracy that the United States can, and I believe will, address. But not giving a damn about fellow citizens' votes?
Election Protection volunteer Bernestine Singley, a Texas-based writer-lawyer I know, was torn between elation and outrage on Nov. 2 as she monitored polls in three Florida precincts. Inspiring to Singley were hundreds of volunteers, most of them white, who'd traveled hundreds of miles to ensure the inclusion of minority voters. She felt stirred by scores of young, black voters whose attitude, she says, was, "I don't care how long I have to stand in line before I do what I came here to do."
Singley's outrage was sparked by clearly hostile white poll workers, and the police officer who stood -- illegally -- by a polling place door, hand on his revolver.
Did I mention the guy who shoved her?
After watching Singley assist voters for hours, a scowling, white-haired 70-something poll worker patronizingly suggested that she was not a poll monitor. When she replied that he knew exactly what she was doing, he rammed his chest into hers, shoving her backward.
Pushing right back, Singley told the man, "You better get off me." He did. Minutes later, Singley says the man told another poll worker within her hearing: "I don't know why she thinks I know who she is. They all look alike to me."
Excuse me -- is this 2004 or 1954?
Ironically, if all Americans did look alike -- if "black" and "white" and "poor" and "well-to-do" didn't exist -- outrages such as those would happen much less often.
When they did, many more Americans would fight to ensure they never happened again.