INDEPTH: US ELECTION 2004|
Courting black concerns
CBC News Online | October 22, 2004
Traditionally, black Americans have been the strongest supporters of the Democratic party. Polls late in the campaign suggest that's still true but George W. Bush appears to be doing better among blacks this time than he did four years ago.
In 2000, for every black who voted for Bush, 10 voted for Al Gore. Support among blacks for candidates from the Democratic party has been close to that level since Lyndon Johnson easily beat Barry Goldwater in 1964. A year later, the U.S. had a new law the Voting Rights Act protecting everyone's right to cast their ballot.
But for many blacks, the notion that the battle for voting rights ended with Johnson's win was strongly shaken in 2000. Thousands of voters were illegally turned away from the polls and thousands of votes were miscounted or ignored. Most of those were in Florida a state decided by 537 votes and a disproportionate number of affected voters were black.
Of the 217.8 million Americans who will be eligible to vote on Nov. 2, more than 10 per cent or 26.4 million are black.
With polls consistently suggesting the presidential election of 2004 could be just as close as the last one, both sides are paying a lot of attention to the black vote. According to a recent report The Long Shadow of Jim Crow: Voter Intimidation and Suppression in America Today released by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and People for the American Way, Democrats and Republicans appear to be taking different approaches to the black vote.
The report suggests "subtle, cynical and creative tactics" to keep minorities especially African-Americans from voting have occurred in every election since the law was passed.
The report cites examples such as:
In the crucial swing state of Ohio, there are concerns among blacks that there is an organized effort to suppress their vote.
- Florida 2004: the state ordered the implementation of a "potential felon" purge list to remove voters from the rolls. The state abandoned the plan after news media investigations revealed that the 2004 list also included thousands of people who were eligible to vote, and heavily targeted African-Americans while virtually ignoring Hispanic voters.
- Summer 2004: Michigan state Rep. John Pappageorge (R-Troy) was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election." African-Americans make up 83 per cent of Detroit's population.
- South Dakota, June 2004 primary: native American voters were prevented from voting after they were challenged to provide photo IDs, which they were not required to present under state or federal law.
Cleveland the poorest city in the country still uses punch cards to record votes. They're similar to the cards that caused a lot of controversy in Florida four years ago.
Theophilius Kaviness is pastor at a Baptist church in the city. He says many blacks fear the Republicans are deliberately trying to depress the black vote because it is overwhelmingly Democratic.
"In fact, we have heard that there have been efforts to keep the vote down in our community to make sure the other people would have a chance to win," Kaviness told CBC News.
At their headquarters in Cleveland, Republican officials see a plot, too. Some accuse the Democrats of trying to manufacture election fraud.
"I think it is absolutely the left's strategy to send this election to the courts," Jim Tracus, the Republican party's chairman in Cuyahoga County, said. "Because I think they think they can win there and they don't think they can win at the ballot box."
In a basement auditorium, a life skills class puts aside its regular agenda to discuss what people should do if they're illegally asked for ID on election day. Barbara Anderson, the director, said the Florida fiasco reinforced the fears of many poor black Americans that the election system is fixed. She worries about the possible reaction to another close election outcome.
"This is an election we cannot afford to have any question about," Anderson told CBC News. "This is so serious to the minority community that we need to know the votes counted, they were counted accurately and the race was fair."
Both sides are focusing on the pulpit in their efforts to woo black voters. On Sunday, Oct. 17, Kerry attended a Baptist service in Columbus, Ohio, while his running mate John Edwards visited a Baptist church in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The Bush campaign is going after black conservative Christians. The National Faith-Based Initiatives Coalition and its 65 pastors have come out in favour of Bush. The Republicans have also enlisted the support of at least 30 black ministers for their Empowering People of Color tour.
"The reality is, as we saw in the last election, 92 per cent of African-Americans voted Democrat," Reverend Wayne Perryman told CBC News. "In the year 2000 in that election, we didn't have the issues we have today, which is a major difference."
The issues Perryman hints may resonate with black conservative Christians include school vouchers and Bush's support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
A poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that Bush has doubled his support among black voters over the past four years. Among blacks who identify themselves as conservative Christians, his support is pegged at 36 per cent.
Still, he turned down a recent request for an interview with Black Entertainment Television, where Kerry appeared in early October. White House officials said Bush didn't have time to sit for an interview before the election.
Voting age population (VAP) in 2000:|
Eligible voters (VEP) in 2000:
Voter turnout (% of VEP) in 2000:
Numbers of seats up for election (2004):
House: 435 (all of them)
Senate: 34 (of 100)