CBC Preps Voters for the Unexpected

Posted September 29, 2004 at 5:48pm

With just more than a month remaining until the elections, the Congressional Black Caucus will make a last push to avoid a repeat of the 2000 Florida vote-counting controversy in what it is billing as a “preparedness” hearing to get minority voters ready for the unexpected.

The CBC is inviting House and Senate Democrats to next Thursday’s session, at which a panel of national experts will talk about potential election recount pitfalls and ways in which voters can make sure their ballots are tallied. Discussions will focus specifically on whether voting systems are ready for Nov. 2.

The CBC chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said this week the caucus is holding the hearing to once again raise awareness about the problems experienced in the 2000 presidential election, in which a major recount of ballots in Florida left the presidency in limbo.

That controversy included allegations that black voters in some districts were turned away from polling places and prevented from casting votes.

“We are still feeling the pain and many of the people we represent are still feeling the pain of the 2000 elections,” said Cummings. “The hearing serves as a reminder that we must never forget that democracy in this country was shaken in November 2000.”

The CBC hearing is titled “The Long Shadow of the 2000 Election: Are we ready to vote on Nov. 2,” and will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday in 2226 Rayburn. The CBC held two similar hearings during the 107th Congress, in the wake of the Florida recount.

Among those expected to speak are: Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission; Gracia Hillman, commissioner of the Election Assistance Commission; Doug Jones, University of Iowa professor; and Jorge Mursuli, Florida state director of People for the American Way.

The CBC also invited former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford — co-chairmen of the blue ribbon task force assigned to recommend changes to the electoral process — to participate, but both are unlikely to make it due to scheduling conflicts.

Cummings said the CBC hopes that as a result of the hearing, voters will “become very proactive when exercising their right to vote and cause them to be careful.” As part of that, he is encouraging voters to cast ballots early, and vote absentee if appropriate.

“Number one, we want to bring attention to this so people don’t forget what happened in 2000,” Cummings said. “And number two, we want people to understand that there are still major problems with voting processes, and number three that they must be very vigilant in their voting.”

Cummings acknowledged there is little time remaining this election season to make a difference, but the CBC can add to other efforts across the country to ensure voters’ rights are protected on Election Day.

“The key right now is to make sure that we do everything in our power to see that every vote is counted,” Cummings said.