Voting and Counting – by Paul Krugman

Greg Palast

October 22, 2004
If the election were held today and the votes were counted fairly, Senator John Kerry would probably win. But the votes won’t be counted fairly, and the disenfranchisement of minority voters may determine the outcome.

… Last week I described Greg Palast’s work on the 2000 election, reported recently in Harper’s, which conclusively shows that Florida was thrown to Mr. Bush by a combination of factors that disenfranchised black voters. These included a defective felon list, which wrongly struck thousands of people from the voter rolls, and defective voting machines, which disproportionately failed to record votes in poor, black districts.

One might have expected Florida’s government to fix these problems during the intervening four years. But most of those wrongly denied voting rights in 2000 still haven’t had those rights restored – and the replacement of punch-card machines has created new problems.

After the 2000 debacle, a task force appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush recommended that the state adopt a robust voting technology that would greatly reduce the number of spoiled ballots and provide a paper trail for recounts: paper ballots read by optical scanners that alert voters to problems. This system is in use in some affluent, mainly white Florida counties.

But Governor Bush ignored this recommendation, just as he ignored state officials who urged him to “pull the plug” on a new felon list – which was quickly discredited once a judge forced the state to make it public – just days before he ordered the list put into effect. Instead, much of the state will vote using touch-screen machines that are unreliable and subject to hacking, and leave no paper trail. Mr. Palast estimates that this will disenfranchise 27,000 voters – disproportionately poor and black.

A lot can change in 11 days, and Mr. Bush may yet win convincingly. But we must not repeat the mistake of 2000 by refusing to acknowledge the possibility that a narrow Bush win, especially if it depends on Florida, rests on the systematic disenfranchisement of minority voters. And the media must not treat such a suspect win as a validation of skewed reporting that has consistently overstated Mr. Bush’s popular support.

Excerpted from the New York Times. See Palast’s entire report in this month’s Harper’s Magazine. Greg Palast, author of the New York Times bestseller, the Best Democracy Money Can Buy, is investigating the vote in Florida for BBC Television Newsnight and Harper’s. Palast’s documentary of his BBC investigations, “Bush Family Fortunes,” has just been released in DVD. For more information on the film or the voting investigation, go to www.GregPalast.com

Media inquiries to Harper’s Magazine, New York, New York.