Uproar: Bush official’s quip on black voters

John Byrne

Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) rebuked a Justice Department voting official Friday night who said Ohio’s African American voters faced long lines in the 2004 presidential election because blacks tend to vote at night.

Justice Department Voting Section Chief John Tanner’s “investigation of the 2004 election in Ohio concluded that long lines and late voting precincts were due to the fact that white voters tend to cast ballots in the morning (i.e., before work) and black voters cast ballots in the afternoon (i.e., after work),” Conyers said in a release.

Why did African American voters suffer long lines in Ohio?

Tanner wrote in a letter TPM Muckraker uncovered that “…the principal cause of the difference appears to be the tendency in Franklin County for white voters to cast ballots in the morning (i.e., before work), and for black voters to cast ballots in the afternoon (i.e., after work). We have established this tendency through local contacts and through both political parties, and it accords with our considerable experience in other parts of the United States. Morning voters may wait in line several hours, as happened in white precincts, without keeping the polls open after 7:30 am; this is not the case, however, at sites where voters arrive after 5:30 p.m.”

The comments were reported by TPM Muckraker Friday.

Voters in black counties faced far longer lines than those in the more white Ohio suburbs. Investigations showed that Ohio officials had deliberately placed fewer voting machines in some areas and in some instances even kept voting machines out of service. The resulting lines generally resulted in less individuals voting because the lines were so long.

“I am concerned about the extreme lengths Mr. Tanner went to in order to justify the reasons African-Americans were not treated equally in the 2004 Ohio election,” Conyers said. “The committee needs to consider this matter. I am aware of no precedent for the Department acting in this capacity in the past.

“The Department of Justice — since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — has a responsibility to thoroughly investigate allegations of voter suppression and discrimination, like those made in Ohio in 2004,” the Michigan Democrat added. “I look forward to hearing more from Mr. Tanner in our committee later this month as he testifies about his work as chief of the voting section. The 2004 election exposed serious deficiencies in this section’s failure to adequately investigate and prosecute voter suppression efforts nationwide and I hope he is prepared to address this issue head on.”

Conyers wrote a detailed report while in the House minority which detailed Ohio’s voting discrepancies, What Went Wrong in Ohio.

“We have found numerous, serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters,” he wrote in the January 2005 report. “Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousand of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards.”

Among the irregularities in voting, Conyers listed insufficient voting machines in predominately minority and Democrat districts, provisional ballots that disenfranchised thousands, voter registrations that were rejected because of paper weight, efforts by Republicans to engage in “caging” tactics that targeted 35,000 mostly minority voters for intimidation and the use of voting “challengers,” who could challenge voters’ rights to have their vote counted.

The challengers, he said in his report, were “concentrated in minority and Democratic areas likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of legal voters, who were not only intimidated, but became discouraged by the long lines. Shockingly, these disruptions were publicly predicted and acknowledged by Republican officials: Mark Weaver, a lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party, admitted the challenges ‘can’t help but create chaos, longer lines and frustration.'”