Voting rights not available
to all Americans

Dr. Martin Luther King's struggle to fight poll taxes and "literacy" tests in the 1960s should have helped ensure the right to vote for all African-Americans. But new threats are rearing their ugly heads: computerized purges of voter rolls.

While the media was kept busy with things like butterfly ballots, during the last presidential election activities in Florida in 2000, that state's secretary of state's office was quietly busy seeing to the removal of 94,000 voters from its registries. They claimed the removed names represented convicted felons who, in Florida, are not permitted to vote. But it was later discovered that an overwhelming number were innocent of any crime. More than half were black or Hispanic. (In most southern states, a voter's colour is listed next to their names.)

A central voter file for Florida, in the hands of an elected official, was subject to the political and racial purge of the registered voters under cover of a 1998 "reform" law that was intended to prevent voter fraud.

All voters whose names, birthdates and genders loosely matched that of a felon anywhere in America, were targeted for removal. Therefore, if a James Washington in another state was convicted of a crime, a man bearing the same or similar name in Florida would lose his right to vote. And the black legacy from history of having common last names helped those seeking to scrub the voters list with a racial bias.

Florida was the first state to purge their list so drastically and disastrously. It is inconceivable that anyone would want to duplicate they system elsewhere. But it is to be done.

Congress has now adopted the "Help America Vote Act". It requires every state to institute the Florida system of centralized, computerized voter files before the 2004 election.

"The controls on the 50 secretaries of state are few," says Martin Luther King III, "and the temptation to purge voters of the opposition party, enormous. African-Americans, whose vote concentrates in one party, are an easy and obvious target."

Black voters are faced with a number of voting impediments. New identification rules and tricky incentives for fault-prone and fraud-susceptible touch-screen voting machines are among them.