'A Jim Crow Election'

Two independent filmmakers and a crusading journalist tour the Bay area to fire up Floridians to save their democracy.

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In some countries, fixing a presidential election is a dangerous thing. People don't accept it when the loser seizes power. They take to the streets by the thousands, industrial production grinds to a halt, and there's pandemonium until either the people's choice is safely in office or too many people have died trying to put him there.

When that same thing happens in America, we watch a movie.

As did more than 350 people on Sept. 21, when they packed the University of Tampa's Falk Theater to view the documentary Unprecedented: the 2000 Presidential Election. Filmmakers Richard Ray Perez and Joan Sekler, along with recently repatriated American journalist Greg Palast, were at the event, sponsored by WMNF-88.5 FM, to tell the audience what the crowd already knew: The man in the White House posing as president of the United States is a fraud, a fake, a pretender to the Oval Office.

This trio has proof.

While the mainstream American press was busy naming Al Gore — then George W. Bush, then Gore, then Bush — the winner of the election, Palast picked up the phone in London, where he was based at the time, and got to work.

What he found was that the fix was in and that Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris had been working for months to ensure that the governor's big brother wouldn't lose in his state. Perez and Sekler interviewed hundreds of people for the film, purchased hours of footage and relied heavily on information provided by Palast for their film.

"What you're about to see is 55 minutes," Sekler told the Falk crowd, "and it will make you mad."

Judging by the jeers from the crowd whenever Harris or either Bush brother appeared on the screen, the crowd wasn't becoming angry so much as reacquainting themselves with anger that they already had.

The film showed testimony from a NAACP fact-finding mission. Black voters explained how they were told that they needed more than a voter registration card in order to vote. Or worse, no matter what identification they produced, they couldn't vote because their names were simply not on the rolls.

Voters in Palm Beach County, that laughingstock of the nation in 2000, demonstrated that they were not idiots. The ballot they were given was confusing enough to cause a Mensa member to vote for Pat Buchanan.

The film showed the frenzy that ensued over the recount efforts and explained that mysterious post-election phenomenon known as the Republican "protester." The filmmakers froze frames to highlight the faces of various aides to Republican politicians who were shipped down to Florida recount sites to disrupt the process.

But the most compelling evidence came from Palast, who was also on hand to answer questions and sign his book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

Palast was the first journalist to uncover the widespread disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida and to document the clear signs that it was done by design.

He held up a letter written by Gov. Bush on Sept. 18, 2000, informing Harris that convicted felons who had served their sentences and had their rights restored in other states had to apply and ask him to have their rights restored in Florida. Later, Bush tried to cover his ass by writing another letter taking it back.

"Jeb Bush acted against a law we had in effect at the time called the Constitution," Palast quipped. So far, there haven't been any repercussions.

Palast's reports hit the press while the recount was actually still going on, but very few people saw them. "The story of the theft of the American election ran everywhere except in America," he told the audience.

Palast works for the British newspaper the Observer as well as for the BBC. As he began uncovering proof that laws had been broken during the election, he tried to interest the American media in his stories. They weren't interested, he said.

Instead, the American media were largely content to report the excuses of Harris and the governor while the real story played out in newspapers around the world.

It wasn't that Palast had access to information that American journalists didn't have. After seeing black voters on the news telling reporters how they were denied the opportunity to vote or were intimidated at the polls, Palast said his first call was to Tampa to Chuck Smith, an aide to Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Pam Iorio.

When Palast asked the race of those voters purged from the rolls as convicted felons, he told the audience that Smith wasn't surprised. "I've been waiting for someone to ask me that," Palast recalled Smith saying.

Iorio, who was in the Falk audience, is featured both in the film and in Palast's book as one of the few Florida officials who had the common sense not to take Harris' directives at face value.

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