Democratic Underground

The Velvet Banana, Part One: The Coup d'etat of 2000
November 21, 2001
by Jack Rabbit

Part Two: The Era of Good Stealings
Part Three: An Attack on Freedom
Part Four: The Velvet Dictator

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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 over.

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 to vote.

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.

On to Part Two: The Era of Good Stealings »