The Boston Globe reports problems that stymied efforts of black Americans to participate in a national election four years ago appear to be recurring this election season. As before, difficulty registering to vote is said to be particularly apparent in Florida, where the incumbent's brother, Jeb Bush, is the governor. Residents of a county with a large population of newly registered African-Americans have confronted election officials about the alleged disparate treatment.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Earlier this month, nearly a dozen African-American ministers and civil rights leaders walked into the Duval County election office here, television cameras in tow, with a list of questions: Why weren't there more early voting sites closer to black neighborhoods? Why were so many blacks not being allowed to redo incomplete voter registrations? Who was deciding all this?
Standing across the office counter under a banner that read "Partners in Democracy" was the man who made those decisions, election chief Dick Carlberg. Visibly angry, the Republican explained why he decided the way he had: "We call it the law."
Black leaders said the scene at the supervisor's office was reminiscent of a blocked schoolhouse door at the height of desegregation. They charge that GOP officials are deliberately using the law to keep black people off the rolls and hinder them from voting.
Four years ago, ballots cast from black neighborhoods throughout Florida were four times as likely to go uncounted as those from white neighborhoods. Nowhere was the disparity more apparent than in Duval County, where 42 percent of 27,000 ballots thrown out came from four heavily Democratic black precincts.
The pre-election practices that have concerned person's riled include election authorities not siting early voting offices in predominantly African-American areas and refusals to allow black registrants to complete faulty initial registrations. During the last four years, registration of black voters has increased by 21 percent. White voter registration has risen by six percent. However, the successful voter registration drive by groups such as America Coming Together can be negated if many of the new registrants are not allowed to vote. Duval County elections workers have failed to process a third of the registrations. They have deemed more than a thousand of them incomplete so far. Since George W. Bush carried the county by only 537 votes in 2000, the outcome there might well be decided by the thousands of potential new voters. But, with a deadline of Oct. 4 to fix incomplete registrations, the impact of the new registrations may be undermined.