Democratic elections have always been messy; democracy itself is inherently messy. And there have probably always been shenanigans to be found in the process. But the “election” of George W. Bush was probably one of the most egregious election scams we’d seen up until that time. Bush lost the popular vote by 540,000 votes. But things got really strange in Florida, where George’s brother, Jeb was Governor.
GOP Voter Suppression in Florida
Governor Jeb Bush instructed his Secretary of State Katherine Harris to purge the voting rolls of thousands of voters.
12,000 eligible voters – a number twenty-two times larger than George W. Bush’s 537 vote triumph over Al Gore – were wrongly identified as convicted felons and purged from the voting rolls in Florida, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. African Americans, who favored Gore over Bush by 86 points, accounted for 11 percent of the state’s electorate but 41 percent of those purged.. Rolling Stone
But that didn’t stop the voter suppression efforts. The fact that voter suppression had been used to successfully “elect” a United States president was not lost on the Republican party.
The 2000 election in Florida forever changed American politics and kicked off a new wave of GOP-led voter disenfranchisement efforts. “Other people began to see that in very competitive elections, you could make a difference by keeping certain voters from participating,”(U.S. Civil Rights Commission Acting counsel Edward) Hailes said. Bush’s election empowered a new generation of voting-rights critics, who hyped the threat of voter fraud in order to restrict access to the ballot, and remade a Supreme Court that would eventually gut the centerpiece of the VRA. – Bill Moyers
Stopping the Recount – “Brooks Brothers Riot”
Republican operatives even staged a fake “spontaneous demonstration” against a recount, bussing in operatives who then changed out of their expensive “Brooks Brothers” suits and donned “blue collar working man” costumes and gathered to loudly “protest” and stop the count. Television news broadcast this political theater as if it were real.
…hundreds of paid GOP crusaders….GOP operatives orchestrated the ranks up to the 19th floor, hoping to halt the tally of the largest potential lode of Gore votes. Republicans, not usually known for takin’ it to the streets, got what they wanted. Just two hours after a near riot outside the counting room, the Miami-Dade canvassing board voted to shut down the count. Yet the way the Republicans went after it, by intimidating the three-member board or by providing the excuse it was looking for, gave Americans the first TV view of strong-arm tactics in what was supposed to be a showcase of democracy in action. If Jesse Jackson can do it, the Republicans argued, so can we. But the GOP’s march turned into a mob. The screaming, the pounding on doors and the alleged physical assaults on Democrats suddenly made a bemused public queasy. “I’m all for anyone’s right to protest,” says Miami-Dade Democratic chairman Joe Geller, who had to have a police escort. “These were Brownshirt tactics.” – Time.com
What the world watched was a GOP melee. When Geller walked out of the room with a sample ballot, the crowd accused him of stealing a real one and responded as if he had just nabbed a baby for its organs. Geller says he was pushed by two dozen protesters screaming, “I’m gonna take you down!”…video cameras caught scenes of activism that had morphed into menace. The organizers in the RV outside, who GOP protesters have told TIME were led by hardball Washington strategist Roger Stone, had phone banks churning out calls to Miami Republicans, urging them to storm downtown. (Stone could not be reached for comment.) – Time.com
The case Bush v Gore eventually went to the Supreme Court, and the impartiality of some of the Republican judges immediately was called into question.
But when is it reasonable to suspect a judge’s impartiality? Before Bush v. Gore came to trial, it was widely reported that two of Justice Scalia’s sons were lawyers in firms representing Bush and that Justice Thomas’ wife was collecting applications from candidates who wanted to be recommended by the Heritage Foundation for positions in a Bush Administration. These connections with Bush led to several calls for recusal…Republicans… denied that such calls were reasonable. Justices Scalia and Thomas apparently agreed, because they did not recuse themselves or even disclose their conflicts of interest. – Recusal and Bush v Gore
So, why does this matter now, after the deed was done? Because this was the moment that emboldened the GOP to outright steal elections by a variety of tricky maneuvers like those discussed above. And to cover their tracks, they now routinely claim that “millions of illegals voted” or “dead people are voting”. Their intention is to trick their base into supporting voter suppression efforts.
The best way to take the focus off your own party’s voter theft techniques is to accuse the other party of stealing elections. How else can you get United States citizens – who imagine themselves paragons of Democracy – to tolerate the illegal purging of thousands of African Americans and Hispanics from the voter rolls? How do you get people to think that voter ID laws are justified? How are voters OK with giving people of minority races “Provisional” ballots — when such ballots are rarely ever counted? What about disqualifying “mail-in ballots for using the wrong envelope?
This is why the case of the 2000 election is important. It empowered the voter suppression efforts of the GOP, because, quite simply, they got away with it. Many people were outraged and it went all the way to the Supreme Court, and activist judges there called the decision for their own party. There were no consequences. The corporate media “moved on” without doing real investigative journalism. Public revelations, public shaming, and genuine investigative journalism by mainstream media would have put this information out there for all to see. They failed us.
Many United States voters still don’t even know or understand how the vote was stolen, many don’t want to believe that our democracy is that corruptible; and voter suppression tactics have been getting more intense and sophisticated every election since that time.
I highly recommend Greg Palast’s film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.