In 2000 when the votes for the Gore-Bush presidential race were still being counted in Florida long after Election Day, amid charges of voter fraud and suppression, I wrote a column about the importance of every single ballot being counted. I'm sure most of us remember the hundreds of thousands of votes that were challenged during that election, with many ending up being thrown out.
In the column, I talked about those, including many of my relatives, who lost their lives, businesses and jobs during the turbulent 1960s because they dared to demand their right not only to register, but to vote. And you know, 12 years later, that same column could run today, with only the date changed. It would be just as relevant for this year's presidential election.
Leading up to the election, laws were pushed to make it harder for people to vote in some states, and during early voting, we heard the stories of former felons being denied the right to vote in states such as Florida. An attorney friend of mine, Theodora Brown, traveled to Miami to volunteer her time at the polls to make sure people's voting rights, no matter whom they supported, were not denied.
"There were some early glitches, but my precinct was pretty organized, and unlike some other precincts that had major drama because of not enough machines and had people still in line after the election for president was called," Brown said.
On Election Day, reports were rampant of many areas having few voting machines available, resulting in people waiting for literally hours to get to a voting machine. Tactics to discourage people from voting? You be the judge.
Prior to the election, Rep. John Lewis, who was in the trenches during the Civil Rights days, said it saddened him that people in America in this day and time, especially those of color, were still having to fight for the right to vote. I feel the same way.
On Election Day, I visited polls in Montgomery and Prince George's County where, even though some lines were long, there were lots of voting machines and things seemed to run smoothly. I only noticed a few people being turned away because they were at the wrong polling station, but they were told where they needed to go to vote.
However, I was troubled by the stories I heard from friends and relatives elsewhere before and on Election Day. My niece attends Hampton University in Virginia and she said a couple of people set up a table at the entrance of the campus a few months ago where students could fill out voter registration forms. She said the couple manning the table made a quick get-away when it was discovered that they were a fake operation. Imagine going to the polls on election only to find out that there's no trace of your registration. My niece thought they were targeted because they attend a historically black college where the president was expected to have a lot of support.
In South Carolina, where my mother voted early, she was puzzled when she saw President Obama's name listed at the bottom of the ballot instead of at the top as sitting presidents' names have been in past elections. She and others felt it was a ploy to confuse voters. Also, my cousin Monica said all voters in the state had to tell registrars why they were voting early before they were allowed to cast their ballots. Some might find that a bit intimidating. But for me, the worst story came from a close friend's son, Olujare, who's 19 years old and worked at an election poll in Columbia, S.C., on Election Day.
"It was so confusing in the cafeteria where we were," he said. "There were so many people and there was no organization to how the lines went and we only had five voting machines working."
He said at some of the larger precincts he stopped by, only three voting machines were operational. But Olujare said even though the wait was five hours for many people, they stayed in the lines and waited. That determination is what the election process is all about and what I found redeeming in the midst of the drama — people of all ages who I saw with focused, determined expressions as they stood patiently in lines that snaked down hallways, willing to wait for however long it took to vote for the candidates of their choice.
That's something to be proud of and a mentoring lesson for the next generation.