Votes of Poor More Likely Uncounted

July 12, 2001
WASHINGTON The votes of people living in poor and minority communities were much more likely to go uncounted in the 2000 presidential election than were the ballots of the more affluent, a congressional study found. The report was prompted in part by Vice President Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush and was prepared for Democrats on the House Governmental Reform Committee. It found that voting problems like those encountered in Florida, where the election was decided, were not unique.

"This problem is an urgent national priority,'' said Rep. Henry Waxman of California, ranking Democrat on the committee. "The technology is available to make certain that everyone's vote counts. It is intolerable to allow the disenfranchisement of poor and minority voters to continue.'' The study, released Monday, analyzed 40 congressional districts in 20 states. Those states are Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia.

According to some estimates as many as 1.9 percent of all the votes cast in the last presidential contest went uncounted, the report concluded. That equals about 2 million votes, a number that could have made a difference in such a close election.

Some ballots, the study said, were not counted because voters did not vote for a presidential candidate or voted for more than one. The study found, however, that more often "the ballots were discarded because the voting machine failed to accurately record the intention of the voter.''

Voters in low-income, high-minority districts, for instance, had significantly higher rates of discarded ballots on older technologies like punch card and lever machines than they did on newer technologies like electronic voting systems, the study found.

Waxman called the disparities an outrage and said they were the result of older and less dependable voting machines being used in poorer neighborhoods.

He said the report shows the problem is a national issue that should be addressed by the federal government. "I think a lot of people thought the problem was a Florida problem and not a problem all around the country,'' he said.

R-Ohio, chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees election reform, has said he hopes to have legislation drafted this year.

Bush lost the popular vote but narrowly won the electoral vote after the Supreme Court halted a recount in Florida and he was awarded the state's 25 Electoral College votes.

The ballots of hundreds of Florida voters were in dispute because of aging punch-card voting machines, the design of the ballots and other problems.