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Black Leaders to Protest Tally of Electors

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a sign of lingering anger over the disputed presidential election, a group of black Democrats plans a protest today when Florida’s electoral votes are counted in Congress.

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, announced Friday that he will rise on the House floor to protest the state’s 25 Republican electors in what is normally a routine postelection ceremony. The count will be the last formal step in George W. Bush’s ascent to the presidency before his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Hastings said that he expects to be joined by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and several other members of the black caucus.

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The protest is almost guaranteed to prove fruitless because no Democratic senator has agreed to join in a written statement that would force House and Senate debates and votes on the matter.

Vice President Al Gore, who lost the White House race to Bush, will chair the event in his constitutional role as president of the Senate. In an ironic coda to an election outcome Gore contested because of questions about the vote count in Florida, the vice president is expected to rule the protest out of order.

But the display will be a jarring reminder of the gulf that remains between the new administration and many black elected officials, who have charged that many African American voters were disenfranchised in Florida.

Some have alleged that black voters were turned away at the polls because their names were unjustly expunged or missing from voter rolls. Others have complained of confusing ballot layouts or an atmosphere of intimidation, witting or unwitting, in predominantly black precincts.

“There’s outrage out there,” Hastings said in a telephone interview Friday. “This isn’t something I’m making up. I go to the grocery store and the cleaners, and folks are totally outraged. There’s serious frustration, serious disillusionment.”

Other African American leaders are planning various protests and rallies across the country on Inauguration Day.

Bush was certified with a 537-vote victory in Florida, and in mid-December, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively barred a further recount, Gore conceded defeat. Florida’s electoral votes gave Bush a total of 271--one above the minimum needed to win the White House.

The setting for the expected protest will be a joint meeting of the House and Senate in the House chamber. Presidential electors, picked on slates chosen state by state in the Nov. 7 election, cast their ballots Dec. 18. Today’s count will certify those results.

Rep. Peter Deutsch, another Democrat from South Florida who is white, also plans a protest. Deutsch said that he would call for a quorum of the House and Senate to witness the count--another request almost certain to be denied.

Hastings, who represents an area from Palm Beach to Miami Beach, has a controversial past. A former federal judge, in 1988 he was impeached by the House and removed from the bench after a Senate trial on bribery-related charges. He previously had been acquitted on those charges by a Miami jury, and in 1992 he won his House seat.

Scott McClellan, a spokesman for the Bush transition, said that Hastings is “free to express his view. . . . But the election has been decided.”

Asked what Bush would do to reach out to African Americans, McClellan said: “The president-elect is moving forward, focusing on reaching across party lines to achieve positive results for all Americans.”

McClellan noted that Bush had invited African Americans and others to Austin, Texas, last month to a meeting of faith-based groups. Analysts and Republicans also noted that Bush has assembled a racially and ethnically diverse Cabinet, including prominent roles for African Americans.

In a speech Wednesday to the black lawmakers, Gore himself urged conciliation. “I believe very deeply that we all must respect and, wherever possible, help President-elect Bush,” Gore said.


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