Jeb did this through his Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, using voter purges and “spoilage” of Black people’s ballots.
For the voter purge, Harris acquired from George W. Bush’s Texas a list of all of that state’s convicted felons. Like most former slave states, the largest cohort of Texas’ citizens are white but the majority of their prisoners — about 2/3rds — are Black or Hispanic.
So, how did Harris and Bush use this Texas felon list — and their own Florida felon list — to purge Black and Hispanic voters off the Florida voting rolls in 2000, and how could DeSantis do the same this year and in 2024?
There’s a fascinating detail about the difference in the last names of white people versus Blacks and Hispanics that most folks never even think of. The Bush brothers knew it well, however.
White people draw from a huge variety of nations and languages: Texans and Floridians who are white carry ancestral names that come from dozens of countries — from Russia to Scandinavia, Greece to France, and dozens in between — that all have different languages and thus wildly different last names.
Hispanic people, on the other hand, draw virtually all their names from a single language: Spanish, the tongue spoken by the Conquistadors. The most common in America are Garcia, Rodriguez, Hernandez, Martinez, Lopez, Gonzalez, Perez, Sanchez, Ramirez and Torres: just those ten names account for an estimated 37 million Hispanic Americans.
Similarly, Black people in America disproportionately draw their names from a small pool of southern slave owners and early Presidents who, themselves, were almost entirely English-speaking and of Scotch, Irish and British extraction. The most common Black last names are Williams, Johnson, Smith, Jones, Brown, Jackson, Davis, Thomas, Harris and Robinson, representing some 13 million African Americans.
So, when Bush and Harris wanted to purge mostly Black and Hispanic people from the Florida voter rolls in advance of the 2000 election, they went straight for a felon list, which was disproportionately made of Black and Hispanic names. And George W. Bush was happy to provide one.
To make the purge even more effective, the company that Harris hired to compare the Texas felon list with the Florida voter list (on the bizarre assumption that Texas felons were moving to Florida in huge numbers) was instructed to use “loose” comparison of names.
Thus, Texas felon Samuel J. Williams’s name on the Texas felon list would have caused every S. Williams, Sam Williams, Samuel Q. Williams, etc., etc. to be flagged as a felon and purged from the Florida voter rolls just in time for the 2000 election.
The well-documented result was that somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000 (estimates vary) Black and Hispanic voters were purged from the Florida voting rolls, and thus turned away at the polls on election day.
This produced quite a stink in the days after the election, with Black people across the state, in particular, protesting and the NAACP filing lawsuits against the state. As Jesse Jackson, leading one of the larger protests, noted: “Florida is the Sunshine State. This ballot came out of the bushes.”
The purge behind it all, however, was unknown for months until reported on by Greg Palast for the BBC, and even then it wasn’t until almost a year later that the enormity of it was uncovered.
Even before that was known, though, the LA Times reported that voters complained that “black voters were turned away at the polls because their names were unjustly expunged or missing from voter rolls,” and Florida Representative Alcee Hastings protested the count of Florida’s 25 electoral votes on January 6th 2001.
Vice President Al Gore gaveled away the objection and declared Bush the winner, something he (and President Jimmy Carter) would later realize was probably not the case.
Even the federal government noticed.
The US Commission on Civil Rights is an “independent, bipartisan, fact-finding federal agency” created by an act of Congress in 1957. Their mission is to study “alleged deprivations of voting rights and alleged discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice.”
They conducted an in-depth post-mortem of the 2000 election in Florida, including subpoenaed testimony from both Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Their findings, summarized here, were stark:
- “Black voters were nearly 10 times more likely than nonblack voters to have their ballots rejected.”
- “14.4 percent of Florida’s black voters cast ballots that were rejected. This compares with approximately 1.6 percent of nonblack Florida voters who did not have their presidential votes counted.”
- “Florida’s overzealous efforts to purge voters from the rolls, conducted under the guise of an anti-fraud campaign, resulted in the inexcusable and patently unjust removal of disproportionate numbers of African American voters from Florida’s voter registration rolls for the November 2000 election.”
- “[I]n the state’s largest county, Miami-Dade, more than 65 percent of the names on the purge list were African Americans, who represented only 20.4 percent of the population.”
- “The purposeful use of erroneous listings to promote the state’s purging priorities … raise important questions of fundamental fairness.”
- There was “an extraordinarily high and inexcusable level of disenfranchisement, with a significantly disproportionate impact on African American voters.”
Had Jeb not pre-rigged the 2000 election in Florida for his brother, Al Gore would have easily won the state and, thus, the White House. We wouldn’t have been lied into the war in Iraq, Medicare wouldn’t have become privatized through Bush’s “Medicare Advantage” scam, and there wouldn’t have been another deficit-busting tax cut for billionaires.
In the years since that election, there have been two major changes in the election landscape, as I detail in The Hidden History of the War on Voting.
The first was the passage of the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which introduced what reporter Greg Palast calls “placebo ballots” into the mix.
Part of the problem Bush/Harris had in 2000 was that when Black and Hispanic people were turned away from the polls because their names had been purged, they knew right then and there that they couldn’t vote, even though they’d previously been registered. Pissed off, they showed up in the streets.
Now, because of HAVA, when people show up to vote but aren’t on the list, they’re given what’s called a “provisional ballot” that looks identical to normal ballots, but goes into a different box when it’s cast.
In most states provisional ballots are rarely counted; to get yours counted (depending on your state) you typically have to present yourself to an elections office and prove both your identity, your residence, and your previous status as a registered voter, all within a few days of the election. Most people never bother, and don’t realize that their vote won’t be counted.
The second big change was a 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision in 2018 — written by Sam Alito, quoting BS statistics about voter fraud — that authorized states to purge people from their voting rolls if they’d failed to vote in one single election or had failed to return a postcard or letter the state sent out to verify their address.
That letter or card is a particular key to this process, a strategy that goes back to Heritage Foundation’s co-founder Paul Weyrich’s infamous 1980 “I don’t want everybody to vote” rant.
In the first year of the Reagan administration, the RNC began an aggressive program to remove Black people from the voter rolls nationwide.
They did it by sending junk-mail-looking letters into Black neighborhoods asking for address verification, and when the letters weren’t returned they’d strip those people from the rolls. This process of isolating “undesirable” voters is called “voter caging.”
Republicans got particularly aggressive with their Black voter elimination program in the 2004 election, with Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell running the caging operation to help Bush defeat John Kerry (the election that year turned on Ohio).
It’s particularly effective in low-income neighborhoods, where renters tend to move frequently but remain in the same election precinct and so should still legally be able to vote.
As The Washington Post noted on October 29, 2004:
“In 1981, the Republican National Committee sent letters to predominantly black neighborhoods in New Jersey, and when 45,000 letters were returned as undeliverable, the committee compiled a challenge list to remove those voters from the rolls. …
“In 1986, the RNC tried to have 31,000 voters, most of them black, removed from the rolls in Louisiana when a party mailer was returned. …
“Undeliverable mail is the basis for this year’s challenges in Ohio. Republicans also sent mail to about 130,000 voters in Philadelphia, another heavily black and Democratic stronghold.”
Later and more sophisticated versions of voter caging, pioneered by Karl Rove associates, involved not just looking for people who’d moved but sending postcards or letters that looked like junk mail but required a reply via the mail. When those letters or postcards aren’t returned, voters are taken off the rolls. (Also, check out my “update” at the very bottom of this post, below the videos.)
Alito’s 2018 ruling, the result of a particularly aggressive voter caging program run in the previous years at the instruction of Ohio Governor John Kasich, fully legalized the practice, and the GOP has been using it ever since to hold power in pretty much every state they control.
In just the two years between 2016 and 2018, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Republicans purged over 17 million Americans from voter rolls nationwide. If anything, the pace has picked up since then.
The last time Brian Kemp faced Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia he purged 107,000 people off the voting rolls just prior to the election, all of them registered voters who failed to return a caging card. He won by 50,000 votes.
Which brings us back to DeSantis.
Florida and Texas are the only two states where the Secretary of State — the person who runs elections statewide — is appointed by the governor. And Ron DeSantis just appointed a doozy, State Representative Cord Byrd.
Byrd is a Trump-humping election denier eager to do whatever DeSantis wants. The law requires the state senate to confirm him, but DeSantis, apparently wanting to avoid the public hearings that Democrats are demanding, is stalling and apparently plans to let him be an “acting” Secretary of State for years, if necessary.
Byrd’s wife is also a hardcore rightwing activist who’s been a bit more public about their family’s politics; around the time of the January 6th coup attempt, she posted to her Facebook page:
“In the coming civil wars (We the People vs the Radical Left and We the People cleaning up the Republican Party), team rosters are being filled. Every elected official in DC will pick one. There are only 2 teams… With Us [or] Against Us.”
Following that, she wrote:
“ANTIFA and BLM can burn and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens. But when Trump supporters peacefully protest, suddenly ‘Law and Order’ is all they can talk about! I can’t even listen to these idiots bellyaching about solving our differences without violence.”
She then posted her upset that some of her Proud Boy friends had been put in Facebook [FB] Jail:
“Why do you think Facebook is throwing people in FB Jail who share information about Proud Boys? (Side note: I must really have great friends cause a whole bunch have been locked up! 😂) I think it’s because they’ve seen a drastic spike in searches and they are worried that people are educating themselves rather than blindly believing what MSM narrative. Anyone have a better theory?”
Byrd himself was the primary sponsor of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as well as co-sponsoring a draconian abortion ban, legislation to ban teachers from discussing race, and legislation aimed at trans people and immigrants.
And now he’s in charge of Florida’s elections.
Ron DeSantis won his governor’s seat with less than a half-percent in the 2018 election. And Democrats this year are hugely cranked up, in no small part because of Alito’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade.
DeSantis’ presidential ambitions are on the line in this year’s battle against, most likely, former Governor Charlie Crist (the primary is August 23rd).
Will he succumb to the same temptation to rig the election for himself, like Jeb Bush did for his brother George?
As Michael Keaton once said in a movie, “Is a frog’s ass watertight?”