News Release

Undermining Fair Elections


* Voting Rights: Florida Chill

Alma Gonzalez is spokeswoman for the Voter Protection Coalition in Florida and special counsel to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. On an Institute for Public Accuracy news release dated July 29, 2004, Gonzalez had said: “Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents showed up at the homes of absentee voters, many of whom were minorities, and asked them if they had really voted, if they had actually sold their votes, and otherwise questioned them in an unfriendly manner while revealing their sidearms. This is unacceptable.”

On August 20, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert picked up the story in a column titled “Voting While Black,” writing: “The officers were armed and in plain clothes. For elderly African-American voters, who remember the terrible torment inflicted on blacks who tried to vote in the South in the 1950’s and 60’s, the sight of armed police officers coming into their homes to interrogate them about voting is chilling indeed.” In a follow-up column on August 23, Herbert wrote: “[the investigation was] said by officials to be a response to allegations of voter fraud in last March’s mayoral election [in Orlando]. But the investigation went forward despite findings in the spring that appeared to show that the allegations were unfounded. … The prolonged investigation dovetails exquisitely with that crucial but unspoken mission of the G.O.P. in Florida: to keep black voter turnout as low as possible. The interrogation of elderly black men and women in their homes has already frightened many voters and intimidated elderly get-out-the-vote volunteers.”

Gonzalez said today: “The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has now asked the Justice Department Voting Rights Division to look into the matter, and five congressional representatives have written letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft imploring action. There is still time to restore confidence in the integrity and the transparency of the electoral process. If appropriate actions are not taken, these incidents could well have a chilling effect.” [See: and]

An IPA release dated January 15, 2001, stated: “Critics expressed concern today about a previously unexamined aspect of the record of attorney general nominee John Ashcroft — his successful efforts to block legislation designed to equalize access to voter registration in the St. Louis area. As governor, Ashcroft twice vetoed measures passed overwhelmingly by the Missouri legislature that sought to make it possible for volunteer deputy registrars from nonpartisan organizations to engage in voter registration in the city of St. Louis, which was about 50 percent black. While Ashcroft was governor, the election commissioners in St. Louis City and St. Louis County established different policies for appointing volunteer deputy registrars. In the county — which was mainly white and Republican at the time — commissioners would freely deputize the registrars from groups like the League of Women Voters. But in the city, which had a much higher black population, similar registrars were not deputized.” The release quoted John Hickey (see below) as stating: “As a result, it was more difficult to get registered to vote in the City of St. Louis than in St. Louis County. … Mr. Ashcroft’s vetoes show a disturbing commitment to maintaining separate and unequal access to voter registration for African-Americans.”

More Information

* Voting Rights: Missouri Compromised

John Hickey is the executive director of the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition. He said today: “There was a lot of attention during the 2000 presidential election on the role played by Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who also co-chaired George W. Bush’s campaign [in Florida]. As we witnessed in 2000, the secretary of state plays a very crucial role in the electoral process. It’s essential that this person runs fair and impartial elections and does not misuse the office for partisan gain. Unfortunately, recent events in Missouri show serious problems can arise from partisan use of this key public office. Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt has spent almost $48,000 in public money on statewide newspaper advertising that included his name and picture, urging voters to turn out for the August 3 primary — where he was running on that same ballot as a Republican gubernatorial candidate! Adding to the irony is the fact that the funds Blunt used for what amounted to a publicly-paid campaign ad were from federal appropriations to Missouri from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was enacted in 2002 as a response to the events in Florida. That money is supposed to be used for purposes such as recruiting and training election judges, buying voting machines that disabled people can use, and improving maintenance of voter lists. It’s outrageous that a secretary of state used HAVA money as a personal political slush fund.”

Hickey added: “Matt Blunt is the son of Roy Blunt, the current Republican Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, a very powerful position. Roy Blunt has already raised money for his son’s previous campaigns, and the Matt Blunt bid is a priority for the Republican National Committee.”