Republicans Never Wanted a Fair Fight

Lessons from the tumultuous election in 2000 are still relevant 20 years later.

In These Times Editors

Rev. Jesse Jackson rallies protesters in Florida after the U.S. Supreme Court halted recount efforts in the state, handing the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000. Invoking Jackson’s famous “Keep Hope Alive” speech, Senior Editor David Moberg wrote “Keep Florida Alive” for the January 8, 2001, issue of In These Times. ROBERT KING/NEWSMAKERS

It’s like déjà vu all over again. In 2020, the now unabashed­ly racist Repub­li­can Par­ty did its best to sup­press the Black vote, just as it did in 2000. And despite the out­come of 2020, no one has learned their lesson. 

Recall the dis­as­ter that was the 2000 elec­tion. Thanks to vot­er sup­pres­sion and a par­ti­san inter­ven­tion by Repub­li­can Supreme Court jus­tices, George W. Bush car­ried Flori­da by just 537 votes, which made him the win­ner in the Elec­toral Col­lege arith­metic. In 2020, Repub­li­cans are mak­ing a des­per­ate attempt at a Hail Mary,’ like Sen. Lind­sey Graham’s (R‑S.C.) eth­i­cal­ly ques­tion­able elec­tion probe or Trump’s base­less accu­sa­tions of vot­er fraud.” Despite these efforts, there is no no arith­metic by which Trump can be declared the win­ner. In These Times Senior Edi­tor David Moberg, in Keep Flori­da Alive,” fea­tured in the Jan­u­ary 8, 2001, issue, looked on the bright side of a fraught elec­tion. The fias­co in 2000 should lead to whole­some reform, he wrote:

The elec­tion cri­sis opens up new pos­si­bil­i­ties for chal­leng­ing the legit­i­ma­cy of some aspects of our inher­it­ed polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions and process­es, and forc­ing a debate on what democ­ra­cy could and should mean in the 21st cen­tu­ry. It is sim­ply the lat­est, most dra­mat­ic devel­op­ment in a series of unfold­ing crises of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy that unfor­tu­nate­ly so far have pro­duced more cyn­i­cism and with­draw­al than protest or demands for deep-seat­ed reform. …

There undoubt­ed­ly will be chal­lenges to the Elec­toral Col­lege, which has been taint­ed by anti-pop­u­lar elit­ism and the spe­cial inter­ests of the slave­hold­ing states from its ori­gins, and which no longer plau­si­bly pro­vides enough ben­e­fits to off­set its great dis­ad­van­tages. …

The insti­tu­tion­al cri­sis, how­ev­er, goes far beyond the Elec­toral Col­lege to a broad­er sense that exist­ing pol­i­tics does not serve most peo­ple or demo­c­ra­t­ic ideals. …

What­ev­er hap­pens in the courts and the counts, pro­gres­sives should con­tin­ue, para­phras­ing Jesse Jack­son, to keep Flori­da alive. There are too many impor­tant ques­tions about what hap­pened in the Flori­da elec­tion to throw in the tow­el, even if [Al] Gore is forced to con­cede. The objec­tive should not be sim­ply fur­ther crip­pling Bush, but rather open­ing a broad dis­cus­sion about remak­ing democ­ra­cy to guar­an­tee pop­u­lar pow­er, to reduce the pow­er of monied inter­ests, and to pro­tect the rights of indi­vid­u­als and minori­ties.

Democ­ra­cy is — or should be — more than vot­ing, but if votes aren’t even accu­rate­ly count­ed, democ­ra­cy is a fraud and there’s less rea­son for any­one to head to the polls. This year’s bal­lot­ing could have been a civics les­son in how every vote can count; instead it has showed how many votes don’t. …Like near­ly every­thing else in the elec­tion, the fail­ure to invest in reli­able vot­ing tech­nolo­gies was skewed. The Wash­ing­ton Post, New York Times and Mia­mi Her­ald all report­ed that black vot­ers, over­whelm­ing­ly Gore sup­port­ers, were much more like­ly to use vot­ing equip­ment that had far high­er rates of rejec­tion and error than were white voters.

It’s 20 years lat­er. Though the Trump admin­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to assault the right to vote, despite los­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by a land­slide, let’s hope that in 2040, we look back on this year’s shenani­gans as the death throes of a dying party.

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