By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington, DC, Oct. 27 (UPI) — A British Broadcasting Corporation report has unleashed a political storm over suggestions that the Bush campaign in Florida may be planning to disrupt voting in the state’s black neighborhoods.
Democrats have expressed outrage over the BBC report, while Republicans are heatedly challenging its accuracy.
BBC’s prestigious “Newsnight” regular news program reported Tuesday that two e-mail messages prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida contained a so-called caging list with the names and addresses of 1,886 voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democrat areas of Jacksonville.
The report then noted that Florida law allows political party operatives inside polling stations to stop voters from obtaining a ballot. Then, they can only vote “provisionally” after signing an affidavit attesting to their legal voting status. Yet U.S. federal law, the BBC’s Greg Palast noted, prohibits targeting any challenges to voters — even if there is a basis for the challenge — if race is a factor in targeting the voters.
Republican state campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker Fletcher confirmed to the BBC that GOP poll workers in Florida would be instructed to challenge voters “where it’s stated in the law.” But at the time she refused to deny the possibility that the “caging list” would be used to create a challenge list for black voters from overwhelmingly Democratic districts. Later, she offered another explanation for it.
An elections supervisor in Tallahassee shown the “caging list” by a BBC reporter responded, “The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on Election Day.”
The existence of the list came to light when it was sent to the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and to the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign’s national research director in Washington.
In a later response e-mailed to the BBC, Tucker Fletcher offered a new explanation that she had not given the BBC when first questioned about it. She said the list had been created to try and reach out to new registrants for the election.
“The Duval County list was created to collect the returned mail information from the Republican National Committee mailing and was intended and has been used for no purpose other that,” Tucker Fletcher wrote to BBC Newsnight editor Peter Barron Tuesday.
“Palast’s insinuation that it was created for and will be used for the purposes of an Election Day challenge is erroneous and frankly illustrates his willingness to twist information to suit his and others’ political agendas,” she continued. “Reporting of these types of baseless allegations by the news media comes directly from the Democrats election playbook.”
However, the controversy around the Jacksonville list is far from the only allegation of attempts by GOP campaign officials to suppress or discourage African-American voter turnout.
In Ohio, where around 400,000 new voters in generally Democratic areas have been added to the polls this year, Republicans have deployed a high proportion of their 3,600 polling monitors in predominantly black areas such as inner-city Cleveland.
And BBC Newsnight also reported that it filmed a private detective who was filming early voters in a predominantly black neighborhood.
Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown told the BBC she believed that surveillance operation was part of a widespread pattern of intimidation to scare off African-Americans who are expected to overwhelmingly vote for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry by a margin of at least 80 percent to 20 percent for President George W. Bush.
The “caging list” row is not the only looming voting controversy roiling the waters in Florida. Some 58,000 ballots for absentee voters in Broward County have so far not been delivered to the voters who had applied for them.
Gisela Salas, Broward County’s deputy supervisor of elections, told News 10 television in Florida, “Some of those ballots are actually starting to arrive at their destinations.” But then she added, “It really is an extraordinary delay in the mail service. … What really happened to them is still in question.”
Diane Glasser, vice chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, had no hesitation in putting her own interpretation on the snafu. “It looks like they’re trying to steal the vote again,” she said.