Black Pols Are Furious

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., center, accompanied by fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, gestures during a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2000. From left are, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Fla., Rep. Elijah, Cummings, D-Md., Clyburn, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.
Allegations that some black voters were kept from the polls in Florida and that ballots of others were systematically discarded are reverberating among black lawmakers as George W. Bush prepares to assume the presidency.

Despite Al Gore's concession in the wake of a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court against further hand recounts, "it's going to take a long time for the healing process," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.

"We may well be witnessing the greatest mass disenfranchisement of African Americans since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965," said Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat elected to Congress five years after the historic law barred racially discriminatory voting practices.

Jesse Jackson Jr.    (AP)SIZE>

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., said the Bush camp had "orchestrated a questionable `velvet legal coup.'"

"In Third World countries when democratically cast votes are not counted, or the person who most likely lost wins in a highly questionable manner, we usually refer to that as a coup d'etat," Jackson said.

One by one, members of the 38-member all-Democratic Congressional Black Caucus derided a process they say stripped many blacks of their most basic right.

Among the allegations: defective voting machines malfunctioned, voter lists were purged, voters were intimidated by police roadblocks and thousands of ballots were thrown out in areas where minorities composed a majority of voters. The Justice Department recently sent representatives to Florida to gather information about the allegations.

"All of these things smack democracy in the face," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. "This must be a wake up call for all of America. When one person's vote does not count, it means all of us are treated unfairly."

Rep. Carrie Meek, another Florida Democrat, said the situation had made blacks "suspect of the judicial system."

"They feel that there's something rotten in Denmark," Meek said. "They don't believe Gore has been treated fairly. They don't feel their votes have been counted."

It is unlikely the rumblings from black community leaders are likely to end anytime soon.

Rangel said the black caucus members will soon make visits around the country to thank minority voters "for their personal contributions in respecting the precious right of the franchise, secured with the blood of their forefathes."

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume has said his group plans to sue Florida and some of its counties, seeking changes in the election process because "black voters were increasingly denied their right to vote."

And Jackson's father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, has vowed to have demonstrations in the days leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration. "The civil rights rail, the third rail, will continue," Jackson said.