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GOP Was the Real Victim in Fla. Vote

John R. Lott Jr. and James K. Glassman are resident fellows at the American Enterprise Institute. Lott has taught statistics and empirical methods at the University of Chicago and University of Pennsy

November 12 2001

Last week, detailed statistics were released on voting in Florida during the presidential election. The data for the first time include all of the state's precincts, with not just information on race but on party affiliation.

At first glance, the numbers confirm the disturbing claims, repeated often this year, that African American ballots were "spoiled"--that is, not counted because they showed either no vote for president or multiple votes--at higher rates than the ballots of other groups.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was not alone in charging "a clear pattern of suppressing the votes of African Americans." Much less detailed data earlier this year caused the chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to call for a criminal investigation.

The newspaper consortium that has been recounting the Florida votes will release a report today that is expected to highlight the racial disparity in the spoiled ballots, giving a boost to reform bills that are now moving swiftly through Congress to try to remedy the apparent problem.

But if spoiled ballots do indicate disenfranchisement, then the new data show that, by a dramatic margin, the group most victimized in the Florida voting was African American Republicans.

We discovered this stunning twist in an extensive analysis of the new data.

The new findings show that African American Republicans who voted in Florida were in excess of 50 times more likely than the average African American to have had a ballot declared invalid because it was spoiled.

These results take into account a wide range of factors that influence spoiled-ballot rates, including education, gender, income, age, number of absentee votes, voting-machine type, ballot type and whether votes were counted at the precinct or centrally.

In other words, it is the isolated fact of being a Republican that makes an African American vastly more likely to have his or her ballot declared invalid.

These results are disturbing. They show that, if there was a concerted effort to prevent votes from being counted in Florida, that effort was directed at Republicans, not at African Americans.

This conclusion conforms with another fact that the new data reveal: Among white voters, Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to have spoiled ballots.

In addition, we found that the overall rate of spoiled ballots was 14% higher when the county election supervisor was a Democrat, and 31% higher when the supervisor was an African American Democrat.

So, if spoilage should be viewed as disenfranchising African American Democrats, the new figures strongly suggest that Democrats were disenfranchising African American Republicans.

Some readers may be surprised that black Republicans even exist in Florida, but, in fact, there are 22,270 such registered voters--or about one for every 20 registered black Democrats.

This is a large number when you consider that the election in the state was decided by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Because these Republicans were far more likely to suffer spoiled ballots than other African Americans, the reasonable conclusion is that George W. Bush was penalized more by the losses of African American votes than Al Gore.

In the end, if there were intentional victims in Florida, they were targeted not because of race but because of party.

The irony is that those who screamed discrimination the loudest may have the most to hide.