Mandate or Votegate?
A Wall Street Journal editorial called Bush's election victory over John Kerry--51 percent to 48 percent in preliminary results--a "decisive mandate." The Los Angeles Times said "Bush can claim a solid mandate of 51% of the vote."
Protesters in Gainesville disagreed loudly. On November 3, two feminist groups, Gainesville Women's Liberation and Gainesville Area National Organization for Women, led a march from a nearby park to the Republican Party headquarters on North Main Street, passing out fliers and calling attention to what they called a "stolen election."
In a statement, the groups said "John Kerry may concede. [Senate candidate] Betty Castor may concede. But we will not concede our democracy. We don't concede this election was fair. This election was marked by fraud, suppression and intimidation of voters from start to finish.
"So, why did Kerry concede, when long-suffering voters did manage to cast a ballot in the face of 4, 5, even 9 hour waits, runarounds, intimidation, rejections of registrations--why didn't these Democratic leaders continue to fight? To save face? As part of a gentleman's agreement? For John Kerry this decision to concede may be about keeping divisiveness down, smoothing things over, but for women it's a matter of life and death, a matter that will affect our lives in every way.
"As women, we are NOT willing to let our democracy trickle away, one election at a time, pushing us back to a time when women, and African Americans of both sexes, didn't count at the polls."
The groups held a speak-out in front of the Republican office for around 45 minutes. Police arrived and watched from the parking lot, but did not intervene.
Many people from the crowd spoke, including UF graduate student Eddie Watkins, who described his experience at an Orlando polling place the previous day, where he volunteered for the non-partisan Election Protection Coalition. "A woman in the poll was challenging voters left and right, but only Black voters" Watkins reported. There was a 3 hour line, he said, created in part by the challenges. "It took two lawyers from Election Protection, a lawyer for the Kerry/Edwards campaign, and two Justice Department officials to make her stop." (Watkins' story can be found on page 6.)
Candi Churchill, who co-chaired Gainesville Area NOW's drive to get women out to vote, was working in Palm Beach County on election day. She reported incredibly long lines. "Why are the networks and media declaring this was a fair and free election?" Churchill asked in a letter to the editor of the Gainesville Sun. "In addition to a lack of a paper trail in the majority of Florida counties and hundreds of thousands of ballots still not counted in Ohio, millions of people were prevented from even voting. I witnessed 3, 4, 5, even 6 hour lines! A vote delayed is vote denied. There were not enough voting sites, nor enough staff.
"The long lines alone taint the election results. Who can risk losing a job or not getting home in time for your family or skipping a meal or an appointment? I saw people turn away from the lines in Palm Beach, how many people did not get to vote because of this problem?"
In a handout, event organizers listed problems with the elections in Florida:
Then there's Ohio:
The demonstrators summed up:
"Does this sound like a free and fair election to you?
"We will not concede our democracy to election-stealing Republicans, weak-kneed Democrats, or the corporate-owned media. Women were force-fed and beaten to win the right to vote and we concede our elective franchise to nobody.
"How can we possibly have confidence that these election results reflect what people want? The results reflect how much Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Glenda Hood were able to block people from registering to vote or voting. They reflect how much the voting machine manufacturers were able to keep their programming out of the public eye and away from any kind of audit. They reflect how much suppression could be gotten away with before judges ordered it stopped.
"They reflect all of this--but one thing they don't reflect is the thing an election is supposed to reflect, the will of the people.
"We know that if we can't even vote, can't know that our vote will be counted, we have little hope of winning the changes that women want and need. Without democracy, feminism can't progress.
"George W. Bush didn't win in 2000 and we won't be silent as he installs himself again in 2004.
"We need MORE democracy, not less! Why do we have a cut off time to register voters? In many countries and some U.S. states, citizens can register the day of elections. Why does Florida throw out votes not cast in the right precinct? We should be able to vote at ANY polling location. The Florida voter registration form is a confusing nightmare to fill out. And why should people have to wait hours in line to vote? Voting should be encouraged, instead it's a bureaucratic mess. Polls should be open much longer. In New York State, they're open 6 am-9 pm. Here it's 7 am-7 pm.
"We know that the way women and African Americans won our rights in this country was not just by voting--we had to win the vote without having the vote, after all. And if we have to do it again, we will. This is about organizing a movement to take back our country for all the people that live here, not just the corporate millionaires."
In a follow-up NOW meeting, one woman described being run from one precinct to another in Ocala, where she had registered to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles. She, her husband and son all registered at the same time. After being sent from one polling place to another, her son and husband were finally allowed to vote but she wasn't. She asked for a provisional ballot but was told she couldn't have one because she "wasn't a registered voter." The whole point of provisional ballots, however, is so that you can vote if you don't appear on the rolls.
Feminists at the meeting agreed that the results, and the denial of voting rights to so many, need to be fought. Slowly, this is happening. Bev Harris, the author of an exposé of the electronic voting machine industry, has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for voting machine records all over Florida. (Her website is blackboxvoting.org.) On November 16, she and two co-workers reported that when they went to collect the public records they had requested from Volusia County, they found elections workers disposing of machine records that they are supposed to keep on hand for 22 months. Harris and her co-workers retrieved the precious voting records from the garbage.
In Ohio, public hearings are being held to investigate why there were prohibitive lines, why people were challenged at the polls, and who was behind misleading letters designed to confuse voters. (More on Ohio can be found starting on page 14.) Additionally, the Green Party candidate, David Cobb, and the Libertarian Party candidate, Michael Badnarik, have raised the money to pay for a recount of all the votes in Ohio. This will include over 100,000 ballots which were 'spoiled' in punch-card machines and could not be machine-read, as well as provisional ballots.
Ralph Nader has agreed to pay to recount certain areas of New Hampshire which have strange results.
All of these challenges are likely to cast new light on the likely criminal efforts of Republicans in power to suppress the vote, as well as the problems with accountability when electronic machines are used with no paper ballot.
In the follow-up NOW meeting, Jackie Betz, a Gainesville resident who works Code Pink, listened to many people feeling despair and alienation from the seemingly large number of fellow citizens who voted for Bush. She pointed out that there are 210 million eligible voters in the U.S., "If 60 million did vote for Bush, that's still only 25% of America." She said she didn't feel so bad about the election, summing up, "We've got clear enemies and we've made new friends."
Gainesville Iguana, P.O. Box 14712
Gainesville, FL 32604
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