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Beware of voting rights act!

July 1, 1993

Some 40 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a massive crowd in Washington, D.C., and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Last May, his son stood before a group of marchers in Birmingham, Ala. He said: “We ask a simple question. Do African-Americans have the right to vote in the United States of America?”

The question is legitimate. Martin Luther King III was warning his listeners that the federal government is hacking the computers, resulting in a legalized attack on black voters that could undo 40 years of civil rights struggles.

There was little notice last year when Congress passed and the president signed the “Help America Vote Act.”

Investigative reporter Greg Palast wrote: “When the Bush family wants to ‘help’ us vote, look out. Hidden behind the apple-pie-and-motherhood name lies a nasty civil rights time bomb.”

Palast said the voting act will use up $3.9 billion in tax dollars partly to tempt (nay, mandate) states and counties to adopt computerized “touch-screen” voting. Why worry about that?

Comal County, Texas tried out the new system in 2002. Three Republican candidates each won office with exactly 18,181 votes apiece. The county clerk thought it just a coincidence.

But down the road in Scurry County, Texas, the election officials thought two landslide wins for Republican candidates were a bit too much coincidence for them.

The county clerk found a “faulty” computer chip had caused the optical scanner to record Democratic votes as Republican marks instead. Three recounts later, it was shown that the Democrats actually had won by large margins, and the original results were tossed out.

In the election of 2000, 1.9 million ballots cast were never counted by the machines, Palast said. Election officials said they were spoiled ballots.

Oddly though, a Harvard University study of that election found it was 50 percent more likely for a black vote to be “spoiled” than it was for a white vote. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission found that in Florida, a black person’s vote was 10 times more likely to be rejected than was a white person’s vote.

Palast said his own investigation found that in 2000, paper ballots read by optical scanners in the county with the highest black population were 25 times as likely to be rejected as ballots cast in the neighboring county where whites are in the majority. Both counties used the same paper ballots, but they had different automated tally systems.

Palast reported it’s not only the computers that give civil rights leaders the jitters, but the voting act’s requirement that every state in the union adopt the same method of computerizing and purging voter rolls of suspect voters.

King saw how that worked in Florida. Five months before the 2000 election, Florida governor Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State Katherine Harris, using names supplied by a Texas source, removed 57,700 people from the voter rolls.

The reason, they said, was that these were convicted felons, ex-cons who had illegally registered to vote. The reality was that nearly everyone taken off the rolls was innocent of any crime. They were guilty only of “voting while black.” Voter registration forms in Florida contain information on each person’s race.

As Palast noted, many of us have become distracted or lazy where civil rights are concerned. The veterans of the struggle, however, have remained alert. They know how tough the fight is and how only vigilance will retain the gains.

This administration seems not to care whose civil rights they tred on, and now the skirmishes will be in cyberspace.

That’s why Martin Luther King III and Palast have launched a petition drive to try to correct this disenfranchisement of America’s minority voters.

You may get a copy of the petition at www.gregpalast.com/detail.cfm?artid=228&row=1

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