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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