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Date: Tue, 17 Aug 2004 17:08:03 -0400
Subject: Suppress the Vote?
From: Community Change <[log in to unmask]>
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 Dear Friends,

As I watched Farenheit 911, I relived the shameful moment in our history
when not one voice from the Senate could be found to support the concerns
raised by Black Representatives about the Florida presidential election.

This article from the New York Times reminds us that we MUST be watchful,
and see that all people are encouraged to vote and that no voter is
intimidated or cancelled out.  We won't be getting this kind of news on the
front pages or on Fox News.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.  Let's keep moving.



Suppress the Vote?=20

N.Y. Times August 16, 2004 OP-ED COLUMNIST

The big story out of Florida over the weekend was the
tragic devastation caused by Hurricane Charley. But
there's another story from Florida that deserves our

State police officers have gone into the homes of
elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them
as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened
many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown
a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they
are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came
up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the
investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots
are involved. They said they had no idea when the
investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may
continue right through the presidential election.

"We did a preliminary inquiry into those allegations
and then we concluded that there was enough evidence to
follow through with a full criminal investigation,"
said Geo Morales, a spokesman for the Department of Law

The state police officers, armed and in plain clothes,
have questioned dozens of voters in their homes. Some
of those questioned have been volunteers in
get-out-the-vote campaigns.

I asked Mr. Morales in a telephone conversation to tell
me what criminal activity had taken place.

"I can't talk about that," he said.

I asked if all the people interrogated were black.

"Well, mainly it was a black neighborhood we were
looking at - yes,'' he said.

He also said, "Most of them were elderly."

When I asked why, he said, "That's just the people we
selected out of a random sample to interview."

Back in the bad old days, some decades ago, when
Southern whites used every imaginable form of chicanery
to prevent blacks from voting, blacks often fought back
by creating voters leagues, which were organizations
that helped to register, educate and encourage black
voters. It became a tradition that continues in many
places, including Florida, today.

Not surprisingly, many of the elderly black voters who
found themselves face to face with state police
officers in Orlando are members of the Orlando League
of Voters, which has been very successful in mobilizing
the city's black vote.

The president of the Orlando League of Voters is Ezzie
Thomas, who is 73 years old. With his demonstrated
ability to deliver the black vote in Orlando, Mr.
Thomas is a tempting target for supporters of George W.
Bush in a state in which the black vote may well spell
the difference between victory and defeat.

The vile smell of voter suppression is all over this
so-called investigation by the Florida Department of
Law Enforcement.

Joseph Egan, an Orlando lawyer who represents Mr.
Thomas, said: "The Voters League has workers who go
into the community to do voter registration, drive
people to the polls and help with absentee ballots.
They are elderly women mostly. They get paid like $100
for four or five months' work, just to offset things
like the cost of their gas. They see this political
activity as an important contribution to their
community. Some of the people in the community had
never cast a ballot until the league came to their door
and encouraged them to vote."

Now, said Mr. Egan, the fear generated by state police
officers going into people's homes as part of an
ongoing criminal investigation related to voting is
threatening to undo much of the good work of the
league. He said, "One woman asked me, 'Am I going to go
to jail now because I voted by absentee ballot?' "

According to Mr. Egan, "People who have voted by
absentee ballot for years are refusing to allow
campaign workers to come to their homes. And volunteers
who have participated for years in assisting people,
particularly the elderly or handicapped, are scared and
don't want to risk a criminal investigation."

Florida is a state that's very much in play in the
presidential election, with some polls showing John
Kerry in the lead. A heavy-handed state police
investigation that throws a blanket of fear over
thousands of black voters can only help President Bush.

The long and ugly tradition of suppressing the black
vote is alive and thriving in the Sunshine State.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company