Velvet Banana, Part One: The Coup d'etat of 2000
by Jack Rabbit
Two: The Era of Good Stealings
Three: An Attack on Freedom
Four: The Velvet Dictator
This is America, not a banana republic.
In banana republics, dictators often come to power through
a coup d'etat in which the previous government is deposed.
This usually involves the army sending tanks into the streets
of the capital and aiming their barrels either at the presidential
palace or the legislative house and declaring the strongman
of the junta to be the new president. Afterwards, the new
president calls elections in which he is a candidate; assuming
that there is a strong opposition candidate who has not been
assassinated or fled into exile, this election is quite likely
to be rigged. Thus does the president stay in power.
Once in a great while, there is a coup - not necessarily
in a banana republic - that is executed successfully without
violence or threat or violence, for example the fall of the
Communist government in Czechoslovakia in 1989. This phenomenon
is called a velvet coup.
The US presidential election of 2000 came down to one state:
Florida. On election night, the networks on the basis of exit
polling first called the state a narrow win for Gore, then
called it for Bush, then said it was too close to call. The
election was not settled for 36 days and was settled for Bush
in a manner that has left a bad taste in the mouths of many
who voted for Gore.
Some would say that this election has not yet been settled.
When the US Supreme Court halted the recount process on December
12 in a ruling that gave the White House to Bush, a consortium
of news organizations hired the National Opinion Research
Center (NORC) to conduct a thorough recount of all disputed
ballots in the state of Florida to determine under several
different scenarios and criteria of counting the ballot who
would have won had such a recount taken place. Last week,
the results were released and the winner is: well, in some
scenarios Bush won and in others Gore won.
About two weeks before the release of the NORC recount, New
York-based investigative journalist Greg Palast, who did extensive
research into the Florida election, predicted that the recount
would "seem conflicting and useless." It appears that Mr.
Palast is right.
However, there is more wrong with the election of 2000 conducted
in Florida than the NORC recount could reveal. NORC shows
that Gore would have won a statewide recount by a only few
dozen votes out of six million cast, but that Bush would have
won by two to five hundred votes had the four-county recount
sought by Gore proceeded. However, even if NORC had showed
that Bush would have held on to his tainted three-digit victory
in all scenarios, the truth remains that the election was
stolen. Had the election been free and fair, Al Gore would
today be the President of the United States and his margin
of victory would most likely have been sufficient to preclude
the need for a recount.
The election drama in Florida can be divided into pre-election
and post-election parts. Both parts of the drama show that
the Republicans planned and executed a banana republic-style
election theft with such agility that one would think that
Florida has been a third-world dictatorship under their rule
for decades. The post-election drama is the one that gets
the most attention, but the nefarious pre-election activities
of the Florida election officials are what made all the difference.
Nevertheless, it is helpful to give a broad overview of the
facts of the post-election fiasco in which Gore nearly upset
the Republicans' plans in spite of all their craft and care.
Those dedicated to the principles of democratic government
are rightly offended by the Republicans' post-election strategy.
With the final tally within the statistical margin of error,
Gore asked for a recount. However, Florida election laws being
what they were last year (they have been revised this year),
Gore chose to ask for a recount in just four counties, all
of which had documented problems on election day and all of
which have a history of voting more heavily Democratic than
the state as a whole.
The Republicans screamed foul and said it was unfair that
Gore should be able to pick and choose what counties should
be recounted. Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the chief
elections officer for the state of Florida, imposed a strict
November 14 deadline to the counties to complete the votes.
She claimed the law gave her no choice, but the law in fact
gave her discretion that she chose not to exercise. That she
chose not to exercise discretion and give the counties a more
reasonable amount of time to complete a recount - and of course
we have her solemn word for this - had nothing to do with
the fact she is a Republican or the fact that she was the
state co-chair of the Bush campaign. After all, she is just
a professional doing the job that she was elected to do and
this is America, not a banana republic.
The Gore campaign went to court and got the deadline extended
to November 26. The GOP mobilized its troops by getting their
spinmasters to denounce the recount as "inventing votes" and
actually accused the Gore campaign of attempting to steal
the election. The Republican argument was truly Orwellian:
counting votes is stealing an election.
Meanwhile, the office of the registrar of voters in Miami-Dade
County had some visitors on November 22 while counting disputed
ballots. This was a group of clean-cut white men wearing white
shirts and neckties demanding to be let in to the area where
the votes were being counted. One official was kicked and
beaten in the elevator by the mob after he placed his sample
ballot in his pocket. That this was part of the procedure
and that the official was called a thief and beaten showed
that the mob either did not understand the procedures of the
recount or did not care. The registrar determined that the
vote recount could not go forward under such conditions and
canceled the recount. It is also known that a Republican member
of Congress, John Sweeney of New York, was outside the registrar's
office at the time and gave orders over a cellular phone to
someone inside to "shut it down."
On November 27, the Washington Post reported some interesting
facts about the mob ("Fla Recounts Prompts an Outpouring of
GOP Activism", p. A9). Many were from out-of-state and told
reporters that the Republican National Committee had paid
for their travel, room and board. Furthermore, the Post identified
two members of the Miami mob as Congressional staffers: Tom
Pyle, an aide to House Republican whip Tom DeLay; and Doug
Heye, a spokesman for California GOP Congressman Richard Pombo.
Could it be that there was mob violence organized to interfere
with and intimidate election officials doing their duty? This
is America, not a banana republic.
The deadline came without the four counties able to complete
their recounts. They turned their partial results in to Secretary
of State Harris, who then certified these incomplete results
as complete and accurate. Al Gore had no choice but to go
to court to force a recount.
The court battle was on. The Republicans asserted that the
election was over the minute Katherine Harris certified results
she knew to be incomplete and inaccurate to be complete and
accurate and awarded Florida's twenty-five electoral votes
to Bush. Gore offered to have the entire state recounted,
but the Republicans continued to claim that the election was
For the next several days and weeks, the Bush and Gore campaigns
fought not for the hearts and minds of voters, but judges.
The operative date looming was December 17, when the Florida
state legislature would meet in special session to officially
name the electors. The Bush camp felt that if they could delay
matters until then, the state legislature, dominated by GOP
majorities, would simply award the electors to Bush regardless
of whether they knew the results of the election or, if they
did know, without regard to what it was.
When the Florida State Supreme Court ordered the recount
to proceed, Bush spokesman James Baker angrily denounced the
order and suggested that the legislature should simply step
in and give the electors to Bush. If that didn't work, the
Republicans had one more trick up their sleeves: if the voters
of Florida were to award a set of electors to Gore and the
legislature a set to Bush, then, under the complicated provisions
of the Twelfth Amendment, the House of Representatives in
Washington would resolve the dispute.
Under the Constitutional rules and given the make up of the
House, Republicans would be able to award the Florida vote
to Bush. House Republican Whip Tom DeLay chortled at the possibility.
In none of this did any Republican express any concern about
the completeness or accuracy of the incomplete and inaccurate
count that Ms. Harris had certified as complete and accurate.
All this was brought to a halt on December 12, when the United
States Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision supported by an intellectually
dishonest opinion written per curium, stopped the recount
process. Bush was certified the winner of the Florida election
by 537 votes. The velvet coup was complete and successful.
However, this coup did not start on election night, but long
before. It was a calculated crime, not a mere crime of opportunity.
Greg Palast, who, as mentioned earlier, has done a great deal
of work researching the Florida election, has paid special
attention to the pre-election part of the drama. His work
on the election may be found on his website.
Palast tells how Ms. Harris and Florida's Republican Governor,
Jeb Bush, brother of the candidate, sought to purge the rolls
of potential Democrats voters. Although Florida is one of
several states that prohibit convicted felons from voting;
however, Florida's state courts have ruled that those convicted
of felonies in other states and served their sentences cannot
be prevented from voting in Florida.
Nevertheless, Palast shows, Ms. Harris and Governor Bush
ordered state and county agencies to deny registration to
such voters. Next, Ms. Harris hired Database Technologies,
a firm with ties to the Republican Party, to find such voters
already registered and purge them. However, it didn't stop
there. DBT also provided a list of names to Harris of voters
who may have been convicted of felonies in other states.
Although DBT claimed to have cautioned Harris about the potential
accuracy of the list, Harris sent the list on to the counties
to purge their rolls. One county registrar threw out the list
when she found her own name on it. Other counties used the
list to purge voters. We now know that many people on the
list were never convicted of felonies in any state.
Palast estimates that in this way the state of Florida illegally
purged tens of thousands of voters. Since the list at least
partly ties to arrest records to the voter rolls, one might
well guess that a high percentage of the names on the list
were of Afro-American voters. As anyone who knows anything
at all about voting profiles knows, nine black voters out
of ten vote Democratic.
Thus, the list was a deliberate attempt to purge potential
Democratic votes from the rolls. How many votes would Al Gore
have netted from these wrongly purged voters? Probably a lot
more than 537. Purging voter rolls? This is America, not a
banana republic. Or maybe it has become a banana republic
after all. The election was stolen.
What can be done to prevent this from happening again?
First of all, we see that the post-election Republican strategy
was based on the Byzantine Constitutional process for electing
the President. That can be remedied very easily. Write your
Congressman and tell him or her that you want a Constitutional
amendment submitted to the states calling for the direct election
of the President and Vice President by popular vote. There
will be no more electoral college, no state legislatures having
any role in selecting the President and the House of Representatives
is no longer part of the process, either. Just the people.
Second, this Constitutional Amendment should also guarantee
all American citizens the right to vote. The Supreme Court
decision Bush v. Gore painfully reminded us that this is not
a right. Furthermore, if it were, Katherine Harris and Jeb
Bush would not have had any reason to attempt to purge the
voter rolls. Those people would simply have had the right
As long as the beneficiary of the rigged election is in the
White House, it is unlikely that Katherine Harris or Jeb Bush
will face whatever criminal proceedings, if any, that could
be brought against them. However, Katherine Harris has announced
her intention to run for Congress in a safe Republican district
in Florida next year.
Article I, section 5 of the Constitution gives members of
Congress the right to judge the qualifications of its members.
Congressional Democrats might want to put Ms. Harris on notice
that they might take up the issue of whether or not a former
state chief elections officer who abused her power in order
to purge the rolls of legal voters and thereby rig a Presidential
election is qualified to sit in the House.
to Part Two: The Era of Good Stealings