WASHINGTON (NNPA) - What is it with some people?
Why do they persist in believing racial minorities are inveterate cheaters at the polls? What kind of racist criminal profiling takes place in their minds?
Now comes Georgia State Rep. Sue Burmesiter (R-Augusta) telling the United States Department of Justice that if Black people in her district "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls."
She predicted that if a restrictive law she proposed was adopted, fewer Blacks would vote because her measure would end Black voting fraud. Although Georgia's Secretary of State testified there was not widespread fraud in Georgia, the Republican-dominated legislature overwhelmingly passed Burmesiter's bill.
Fortunately, a federal judge suspended the law's requirement of expensive photo identifications. He agreed with civil rights organizations that charged the law imposed an unconstitutional poll tax. But Georgia's Gov. 'Sonny" Perdue says he still supports the law despite claims that it would adversely affect racial minorities,
Rep. Burmesiter, unfortunately, isn't alone many others behave in every election as if they are the only barrier between honest elections and Black voters bent on fraudulent, dishonest ways to steal elections.
In electoral contest after contest, in states scattered across the country, they've employed so-called "ballot security programs" to halt an anticipated flood of criminally-minded African-Americans from casting illegal votes.
In both Florida and Ohio in 2004, for example, GOP operatives threatened to monitor Black precincts to insure the sanctity of the presidential contest. No such precinct police were employed to guard White polling places. Those voters presumably enjoyed a racial exemption from suspicion of felonious behavior.
A 2004 report issued by People for the America Way (PFAW) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) listed numerous examples of intimidation and voter suppression efforts aimed at racial minorities.
Among the report's findings:
The use in the Orlando, Fla. area of armed, plainclothes officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to question elderly Black voters in their homes.
In Florida in 2004, the state ordered the implementation of a "potential felon" purge list to remove voters from the rolls, in a disturbing echo of the infamous 2000 purge, that removed thousands of eligible voters, primarily African-Americans, from the rolls. The state abandoned the plan after news media investigations revealed that the 2004 list also included thousands of people who were eligible to vote, and heavily targeted African-Americans while virtually ignoring Hispanic voters.
Michigan state Rep. John Pappageorge (R-Troy) was quoted in the Detroit Free Press in 2004 as saying, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election." African-Americans comprise 83 percent of Detroit's population.
In South Dakota's June 2004 primary, Native American voters were prevented from voting after they were challenged to provide photo IDs, which they were not required to present under state or federal law.
In Kentucky in July 2004, Black Republican officials joined to ask their State GOP party chairman to renounce plans to place "vote challengers" in African-American precincts during the coming elections.
In Texas, a local district attorney claimed that students at a majority Black college were not eligible to vote in the county where the school is located. It happened in Waller County - the same county where 26 years earlier, a federal court order was required to prevent discrimination against the students.
In 2003 in Philadelphia, voters in African American areas were systematically challenged by men carrying clipboards, driving a fleet of some 300 sedans with magnetic signs designed to look like law enforcement insignia.
In 2002 in Louisiana, flyers were distributed in African American communities telling voters they could go to the polls on Tuesday,
December 10th - three days after a Senate runoff election was actually held.
In 1998 in South Carolina, a state representative mailed 3,000 brochures to African American neighborhoods, claiming that law enforcement agents would be "working" the election, and warning voters that "this election is not worth going to jail."
As the PFAW/NAACP report details, voter intimidation and suppression is not a problem limited to the southern United States. It takes place from California to New York, Texas to Illinois. It isn't the province of a single political party, although patterns of intimidation have changed as the party allegiances of minority communities have changed.
Over the past two decades, the Republican Party has launched a series of "ballot security" and "voter integrity" initiatives that have have targeted minority communities. At least three times, these initiatives were successfully challenged in federal courts as illegal attempts to suppress voter participation based on race.
The first was a 1981 case in New Jersey which protested the use of armed guards to challenge Hispanic and African-American voters, and exposed a scheme to disqualify voters using mass mailings of outdated voter lists. The case resulted in a consent decree prohibiting efforts to target voters by race.
Six years later, similar "ballot security" efforts were launched against minority voters in Louisiana, Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana. Republican National Committee documents said the Louisiana program alone would "eliminate at least 60- 80,000 folks from the rolls," again drawing a court settlement.
And just three years later in North Carolina, the state Republican Party, the Helms for Senate Committee and others sent postcards to 125,000 voters, 97 percent of whom were African-American, giving them false information about voter eligibility and warning of criminal penalties for voter fraud - again resulting in a decree against the use of race to target voters.
These incidents and others were explained away in 2004 as normal legal partisan activity, aimed at helping one party and hurting another.
But there's nothing 'legal' about intimidating minority voters away from exercising their constitutional rights.
Unfortunately, at least for some people, it is all too "normal."
Copyright © 2005, Julian Bond
Julian Bond has been Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors
since February 1998. He is a Distinguished Scholar in the School of
Government at American University in Washington, DC, and a Professor of
History at the University of Virginia.]