Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of President-appoint George W. Bush, has pledged an investigation into alleged irregularities in the recent Presidential elections in Florida, including charges that systematic efforts were made to keep African-American voters from the polls of that state. This is like one of the Jesse James gang offering to look into problems with bank security systems, using some of the proceeds from their bank robberies to fund the research.

Among other serious charges, there is evidence that Florida police set up police check roadblocks in black communities on election day, that many black voters were illegally purged from the voting rolls by a Republican-financed consultant firm, and that voting machines malfunctioned at higher rates in black precincts than elsewhere.

These allegations of vote-stealing have a familiar ring.

In the first election I witnessed in South Carolina (it was 1970, I believe), a voting machine broke down in one of the largest black precincts in Charleston. It was in the middle of the morning rush. There were no replacement machines available, and while a repairman worked on the problem for a couple of hours, several hundred African-Americans eventually left the precinct without getting the chance to vote. I became righteously indignant, as I often was in those days, but my Charleston friends were philosophical. It happens every election, they told me. And so it did. Never the same precinct. Never the same time of day. Never the same problem with the machine. But for many elections afterward, somewhere in Charleston on election day, a voting machine in a black precinct would break down for an hour or two. Once is an accident. Twice is incredibly bad luck. Three times or more is a plan.

This was during a period in the South in the 70’s when the two major parties were splitting along racial lines. African-American Southerners were flowing into the Democratic Party like a high tide. In response, many anti-black white Southern segregationists abandoned their longtime affiliations as Democrats and moved to make the Republican Party of the South the unofficial "white man’s party." It was their refuge from the "black hordes." No-one said this publicly, of course. But if you lived in the South during those years, you knew what was going on.

After the passage of the1965 Voting Rights Act, Southern segregationists couldn’t outright ban black voters from the polls, as they had been able to do in the past. But it was in the years of the 70’s and 80’s that the old segregationists worked out new ways to lower the black vote total. Registration purges. Subtle and not-so-subtle intimidation. Machine breakdowns. Fraud. Deceipt. Consolidation of the white Southern vote and holding down the national black vote became part of the national Republican plan. That was Nixon’s Southern Strategy. That was the foundation of South Carolinian Lee Atwater’s campaign when he managed the senior George Bush’s successful run for President in 1988. That was the strategy that helped the Republicans be successful in 6 out of the last 9 Presidential races, including this last one.

Florida 2000, then, was no aberration.

After the Republican Party had built its solid pure-white Southern political base, it became comfortable enough in its power to begin trying to peel off a small percentage of the black vote from the Democrats. It’s in this context that you should view the selections of General Colin Powell and Dr. Condoleeza Rice for positions within the new Bush Administration. The two certainly deserve the selections. But this is a triumph of their own personal careers, and no more a signal of overall black achievement than was the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas by Bush the elder. Expect Republicans to continue to dance with the guy who brought them to the party. And that is a strategy to hold down the overall black vote total, any way they can. This stinks.

Originally Published January 3, 2001 in URBANVIEW Newspaper, Oakland, CA