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Florida's African-American voters upset over disqualified ballots

RIVIERA BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- The kind of victory they were raising the rooftops about at Hilltop Baptist Church on Sunday concerned matters of a heavenly nature. When it comes to the race for the White House, there was a sense of defeat.

Hilltop Baptist's pastor, Griffen Davis, said amid heavily Democratic Riviera Beach's highest turnout ever, about 15 percent of votes were disqualified.

Williams
Voter Jerry Williams demonstrates the difficulty he experienced using a stylus when voting  

"I'm hurt, I'm disgusted. I'm frustrated," he said. "This is democracy at its worst, OK?"

African-American turnout in Florida was 65 percent higher in 2000 than in the 1996 presidential race. But statewide, as many as 20 percent of their ballots may not have been counted.

In Little Riviera Beach, about 1,000 votes weren't counted after ballot cards were ruled invalid, either for being punched too often or not distinctly enough. Voter Jerry Williams said though he studied a sample ballot sent to him in the mail, he remained frustrated by Palm Beach County's butterfly ballot and by voting equipment that didn't work -- in particular, the stylus used to mark the punch-card ballots.

"A lot of them were bent so that you couldn't get it all the way down through there," Williams said.

Failed ballots are not unique to African-American precincts in Florida, of course. Republicans point out at least four other states -- Idaho, Illinois, Georgia, and Wyoming -- that had higher rates of spoiled ballots than Florida.

But in Florida, every single vote mattered, and the high rate of disqualified ballots could spur even greater turnout in majority-black precincts in future elections.

"I think they'll go out double force, if for nothing else but for revenge against the Bushes. Excuse me -- I had to say that," said the Rev. Kenneth Henderson.

In Riviera Beach, meanwhile, this year's results have been a hard lesson in the power of the vote.


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Monday, December 4, 2000

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