In July, 2001, I got the bad news. I wanted to go on an exercise program, and my doctor set up a stress test. It was supposed to last an hour or so. I didn't leave the hospital for days.
The problem came as I ran and ran on a steadily increasingly inclining treadmill. The more they tilted the darn thing, the harder it was to maintain the pace. Still, I was only slightly winded. I can take this, I thought. A doctor looked from a monitor and asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was fine. Wrong Answer. I should have been writhing in pain. "You're not going anywhere," said the doctor.
In a consulting room, he showed me a graph. I marveled at my own reaction. I should have been desperately worried. Instead, I was desperately trying not to laugh at the doctor's weird sort of drama as he showed me the printout of the graph.
"Your heart goes ka-thump-ka-thump-ka-thump." He ran his finger along the line on the paper. He got to the crazed section, the line going wildly, rapidly, way up and down over and over. "ka-thump-ka-thump then" loudly "bzzzZZZZzzzZZZ" His mannerism matched the transition on the graph. He went maniacally through the cycle a couple more times, "then back to ka-thump-ka-thump-ka-thump-ka-thump-ka-thump then bzzzZZZZzzzZZZ." Thinking about it even now cracks me up.
Okay, so I have a weird sort of humor.
Days in a hospital bed, going through gently invasive procedures, pictures from inside my heart found no blockage, and further tests confirmed I had just a slight arrhythmia under physical stress. A daily pill, a beta blocker, made exercise a no problem deal. Pretty lucky for me.
It isn't at all that easy for most with heart conditions. So I can empathize with William J. Snow. He was fine, right up until he got the letter from the state of Florida. They had checked him out, discovered that he had a criminal record and, as a convicted felon, had better not try to vote. His later testimony was that, as a "Miami-Dade County resident for more than 33 years" he had voted in the previous election four years before with no problem. Reading of his conviction and previous imprisonment "'caused a great stress' upon Mr. Snow’s heart." Here's why. Mr. Snow had never been in prison. He "had never been convicted of a felony."
It was a mix up in records, and it kept him from voting in the 2000 election. Sorry about the heart thing.
Reading from the files of the US Civil Rights Commission, you can't help but get a sick sort of feeling.
The felony record incident, not Mr. Snow's heart complication, just the vote disqualification, was a pattern that year in Florida. Not everyone got a disqualification notice.
Wallace McDonald was prevented from voting. He testified:
I could not believe it, after voting all these years since the 50s, without a problem . . . I knew something was unfair about that. To be able to vote all your life then to have somebody reach in a bag and take some technicality that you can’t vote. Why now? Something’s wrong.
McDonald had actually been convicted of a crime. He had been ticketed in 1959 for falling asleep at a bus stop. He was counted as a felon, even though he had never been to prison and had never committed a felony, never been convicted of a felony, never been accused of a felony.
Marilyn Nelson is a poll worker with 15 years of experience. As she turned away more and more people who turned up to vote, but who were not on the rolls, she called the office of supervisor of elections. What was going on? She was told they were convicted felons and their right to vote had been taken away. The person on the phone gave firm instructions. Ms. Nelson "could not inform those voters of the reason for their removal from the rolls." She was ordered "to 'tell them to call downtown at a later date.'"
According to testimony, "the Hillsborough County supervisor of elections estimated that 15 percent of those purged were purged in error and they were disproportionately African American."
The final count, months later, revealed an error rate that was quite a bit higher. Estimates vary, but one county, and only one, later conducted a name by name verification as part of an investigation. Leon County had been given a list of 694 people and told to keep them from voting. In the later investigation, only 34 turned out to be felons. That's just a little less than 5%. So, to keep 34 felons from voting, 660 valid, legal, voters were told they couldn't vote.
Mostly Hispanics and African-Americans were taken off the rolls because they had the same names as felons, or matching recorded nicknames, or names or nicknames that were similar but had almost the same dates of birth. 88% of those on the list were African American. Only 11% of voters in Florida are African American. Nearly 60,000 voters were declared ineligible.
The company hired to provide a list of felons had been started by an extreme conservative and a programmer with a history of ties with Bahamian drug smugglers. The drug smuggler guy was forced out just before the state of Florida hired the extreme conservative to purge voters. The hire wasn't easy. The first bid ended up with the wrong company winning. So the bid was restarted and the head of the extreme-conservative-minus-the-drug-smuggling-connection company testified that "a little bird" told the company how to structure their entry to win the second bid.
And so, 2000 was the year all those tens of thousands of minority voters were kept from voting in Florida.
The issue was not limited to Florida that year. In Missouri there does not appear to have been a conspiracy to keep minority voters away. It was simply ineptitude. Voters in St. Louis on election day in 2000 were told their names couldn't be found, and were directed to election headquarters, then directed to other polling places, which then directed them back to election headquarters. At one polling place, voters were ordered away as a fire hazard shortly before polls were to close. Thousands of minority voters were deprived of their right to vote. Similar problems happened in Kansas City, Missouri.
Some who put up with it and persisted were allowed to vote after a judge ordered polling stations to remain open until they finally had a chance. But thousands gave up and went back home.
Missouri Senator Kit Bond, Republican since retired, appeared on television mad as hell. His face was red as he pounded a podium. He wasn't angry about all those thousands of constituents denied their right to vote. He was furious about the polls staying open. "Voter fraud," he screamed as he pounded, "This is an outrage." Boy, was he mad. Months later an investigation was launched into Missouri voter fraud. No cases were found.
The Bush administration dedicated itself to a campaign against voter fraud. This seemed pretty weird at first because existing laws pretty much eliminate fraud by voters. Elections are stolen by election officials or canvassers or political bosses. This happens after polls close, behind the scenes. Totals are erased or ballots are lost or ballot boxes are stuffed. That's how it's done. Fraud by voters themselves is a low return high risk method of influencing elections. It doesn't work, it's easy to get caught, and you would go to prison, and so it isn't done.
A number of measures were promoted by Republicans to make it harder for voters to vote fraudulently, even though it didn't seem to be happening. By some strange coincidence, pretty much every measure would make it less convenient for legitimate, valid, minority, or low income, or elderly, or student voters.
If you make a certain group of voters go two places instead of one, some will get frustrated and drop out, If you can force them to make two or three or several stops, a very high number will give up. Photo ID laws fit the bill. Most voters who don't drive happen to be predictably Democratic. So people who ride the bus to work, or live on campus, or are retired, are told they must travel to get a photo ID. More traditional IDs are ruled out.
The IDs are not all that easy. Documents a lot of folks don't have handy are required to get the IDs. Birth certificates, proof of change of name through marriage, documentation of change of address. The more documentation, the more discrepancies will creep in over the years. Was a middle initial left off? Was a street spelled wrong? No problem, just take another day and travel to another office and apply for another document. Offices in minority and low income areas were closed. No problem, just travel farther in an unfamiliar area. You'll find it. Office hours were restricted. Seating for the elderly while waiting was often not provided.
In 2007, the Bush administration decided to conduct a study to prove once and that voter fraud is a serious problem. An investigative group combed though years of records all over the country. Sure enough, they eventually found what they were looking for. There turned out actually to be cases of possible voter fraud involving impersonation, which is the sort that Photo IDs are intended to prevent. The total number of possible cases over several years came up with:
Nine. That's nine. Nationwide. Nine. Over several years, and several elections, all over the country. Nine. Did I mention 9?
The administration has changed in Washington. But voter denial measures are being put into place by states in which Republicans recently won. This will prevent those 9 instances of voter fraud by keeping an estimated 5 million legitimate voters from casting a ballot. The 5 million number comes from an exhaustive analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.
In the old days, we were taught that politicians were to be tossed out of government when they did not adequately represent voters. That was regarded as the democratic principle. With a small d. Now it is considered by conservatives to be the Democrat principle.
Republicans who hold office have a new policy. Voters are to be tossed out if they do not adequately represent government politicians. Have to prevent fraud.
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