Insidious Path to Oligarchy

Evidence has mounted that the presidential election of 2000 was probably stolen by George W. Bush in the days leading up to and following voting on November 7, 2000. Now fifteen years later, there are three, whose fingerprints were all over the effort, now standing in positions of power – one has already been instrumental in changing the way elections are held, a process now more chaotic and less democratic. The other two are running for president as Republicans.

Chief Justice John Roberts was in the thick of the contested election in Florida in 2000. He was a known and treasured legal mind for conservatives. He had served in Reagan’s Justice Department, and as Counsel to the President in the 1980s. He was a nominee of George H.W. Bush to the US Court of Appeals.

When an automatic recount began on election night, kicked off by the closeness of the election (Bush led by 1,784 votes), Ted Cruz, a 29-year-old domestic-policy adviser on the Bush campaign put together Bush’s legal team, including John Roberts who had a strong track record in arguing Supreme Court cases. Both Roberts and Cruz had clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

With the recount effort, the Bush lead dwindled to 327 votes when the Florida Supreme Court ordered a state-wide recount. Four days later, on December 12, the Supreme Court halted Florida’s recount, in effect, declaring Bush the winner. No justice had put his or her name on the unsigned 5-4 opinion.

But John Roberts had been active in writing and editing legal briefs, including the 50-page submission to the Supreme Court and prepared Theodore Olson, a former assistant attorney general under Reagan, for oral arguments. Roberts also advised Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush, on how the state legislature could assign its presidential electors to George W. Bush before the recount was finished. Roberts left no signed record of his work.

But that was only part of the drama that led to George W’s lead in the election. In May of 2000, officials of his brother, Jeb, the Governor of Florida, had sent a list of 58,000 alleged felons to purge from the voting rolls. Mysteriously, blacks made up 11 percent of registered voters in Florida, but 44 percent of those on the purge list, which turned out to be littered with errors.  News stories about hanging chads, butterfly ballots, and the antics of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris were common, but not the spurious purge list.

After the election, the NAACP sued Florida for violating the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and an independent analysis of the list of 58,000 turned up 12,000 who should not have been labeled felons. That was 22 times the Bush margin of victory, 537 votes, before the Supreme Court stopped the count. A US Civil Rights Commission investigation calculated that at the 90% rate blacks voted for Gore, 4,752 could have been prevented from voting for Gore in Florida. One of them was Willie Steen, a Navy veteran who was turned away on November 7, 2000.

On January 11, 2001, a few days before the George W. Bush inauguration, Jeb Bush testified before the Civil Rights Commission that he wasn’t responsible for the election problems in Florida. “It is the responsibility of the secretary of state as part of our Constitution,” Bush said.

It turned out that on the orders of state officials, names were added to the purge list if there was only a 70 percent match between a name on the voter rolls and a name in the state’s felon database. You could be tagged as a felon when middle initials, suffixes, nicknames, and even race and sex data didn’t match perfectly.

Even worse, a supposedly corrected batch of felon names was reviewed by Tallahassee’s Leon County. Using criteria such as name, birth date, race, sex, and social security number, election supervisor, Ion Sancho, found only 33 out of 697 he could verify as on the felon list.

In 2005 John Roberts was rewarded for his service in Florida of 2000 and valued for his right-wing credentials when George W. Bush, seeking to pack a corporate-friendly court, appointed him to the Supreme Court.  Democrats didn’t seem to vet Roberts and his credentials: his role in securing the Florida election and his opposition to the VRA were well documented. Certainly his deference to Democratic Senators and his claim that “judges are like umpires” slyly drew their confirmation vote.

So, through Robert’s efforts, the disenfranchisement goes on, accelerated after the John Roberts Supreme Court struck down the most effective provisions of the VRA. It is no secret that Roberts has always been a vociferous opponent of the VRA. As a young lawyer in Reagan’s Justice Department, he led the charge against the 1982 reauthorization of the VRA. Voting-rights violations “should not be made too easy to prove,” he wrote. In 2000, he had demonstrated his feelings by helping the Bush team prevent counting eligible votes.

As Chief Justice, Roberts made it much easier for half the states to deny the vote, especially for minorities. In addition, his role in the Citizens United ruling also created the means for inclusion of his Florida election friends, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, to raise millions to run for president – Jeb alone has a $100 million PAC.

We must admit that the appointment of George W. Bush to the presidency in 2000 made us an altogether different country, now considered an oligarchy, vastly less democratic: with growing inequality, with more plutocratic control, more militaristic, more divisive, and thanks to the John Roberts Court, one where money buys elections and minorities are disenfranchised.

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.