Election 2000: The Women's Count

Last updated: November 13, 11 p.m. EST

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WOMENSENEWS)–Eight months ago, women and minority men forged a coalition and mobilized the largest march ever on the state Capitol when they protested Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s plan to eliminate affirmative action in state colleges and contracts.

Angry over an executive order creating what Jeb Bush called the “One Florida” plan, they vowed to “Remember in November”–and they did.

In this presidential campaign, they channeled their energies and political commitment into a drive to register voters and defeat the governor’s brother, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, at the polls. Efforts were led by the Florida chapter of NOW and the NAACP.

And in the recent, confusing days following election day, women and minority men are showing once again that they demand their rights to be counted and recounted–and they refuse to give up the fight.

The prize: Florida’s 25 electoral college votes that are likely to decide the next president of the United States.

14,000 Discarded Ballots From Districts of Black, Elderly Voters

The dismay over irregularities was fueled by The Palm Beach Post’s report on Sunday that nearly half of the 28,000-plus discarded ballots in Palm Beach county came from areas of the county that are mostly black or elderly.

In the past few days and again on Monday, women and minority men held rallies and protests, while the National Republican Party resorted unsuccessfully to federal court seeking a ban on the manual recount of key districts.

“We want Palm Beach to be able to vote,” said Florida NOW President Toni Van Pelt, who said she witnessed voting irregularities in Pinellas County on election night. She expressed concern that many registered voters, mobilized in a get-out-the-vote campaign to “Arrive With Five” additional voters, did not get a chance to vote. NOW is asking Floridians to call the organization’s toll-free line to report any voting irregularities.

They Vowed to Remember in November–And They Did

Lance de Haven-Smith, a political analyst, said African-Americans were very effective in getting black Floridians registered to vote and mobilized to cast their ballots. De Haven-Smith is associate director of the Florida Institute of Government, a statewide network of 12 university and community college affiliates that provide research, training and technical assistance to state and local governments.

Registration among African-Americans spiked by 9 percent in eight months, according to de Haven-Smith, compared with only a 1-percent increase in voter registration among whites during the same period. He also noted registration highs among Hispanic voters in Dade County in the last eight months, but suggested that they were mostly Republicans.

Nearly 6 million Floridians went to the polls, but the number of minority voters is not known at this time. Though the state does break down its voter data by ethnicity, that level of detail won’t be available until several weeks after the controversy dies down, said Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections in Leon County and the Treasurer of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.

Local Election Official Said African-American Turnout Increased

Sancho said he would begin compiling data by ethnicity on Tuesday and hoped for breakdowns in about two weeks. He said that the “Arrive With Five” movement appeared to be highly effective in last Tuesday’s election.

For example, Sancho said, African-American voter turnout in Leon County for the October runoff was five percentage points higher than in the majority population. Sancho said African-American voter turnout in the area usually is between five and seven percentage points less than the majority population, but not this time.

“I think they voted. That’s why this race is so close,” he said of African-Americans and women. “I do think One Florida played a role.”

Reports of Check Point Near Black Neighborhood

Elsewhere, the election was flawed by computer glitches, ballot errors and misplaced ballot bags in Volusia County. Reports of possible voter intimidation surfaced in Woodville, where the Florida Highway Patrol set up a safety check point about a mile and a half away from a voting precinct. Florida Democratic Party spokesman Tony Welch said the precinct is one-third black. Two-thirds of the registered voters in the north Florida city just outside Tallahassee are registered Democrats. The safety check point was in place for 90 minutes.

The question: How will these events play out for Gov. Jeb Bush, who promised to deliver the state for his brother but of late has kept a low profile?

former mayor Dorothy Inman-CrewsThe former Mayor of Tallahassee, Dorothy Inman-Crews, joined a demonstration outside the Capitol in Tallahassee over the weekend and predicted that the election snafus in Florida would work against Jeb Bush when he runs for re-election in 2002.

“He (Jeb) fooled enough blacks to get elected and his first major act in office was to eliminate minority enterprises (referring to the One Florida plan),” said Inman-Crews. “We don’t want any Bushes.”

Christine Jordan Sexton is a free-lance writer based in Tallahassee, Fla.