www.nytimes.com/2000/12/02/opinion/02JLEW.html December 2, 2000 NOW WE KNOW THAT NOT ALL VOTES COUNT By JOHN LEWIS ATLANTA -- The United States exists today because our forefathers fought and died for the right to vote. One hundred years later, women took to the streets to win it. And two generations ago, hundreds of thousands of Americans risked their lives fighting to ensure that blacks had this right. The history of the vote in America is a history of conflict, of struggling for the principle of one person, one vote. Friends of mine died for this principle. I was beaten and jailed because I stood up for it. For millions like me, the struggle for the right to vote is not mere history; it is experience. For nearly 100 years, Southern whites used not only economic retaliation, intimidation and even murder to deny blacks the right to vote, but also more subtle, but no less effective, means: poll taxes, literacy tests and other Jim Crow laws. A Harvard-educated black man failed his literacy test. Another black man was denied the right to vote when he could not answer the question, "How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?" It is in the light of this experience that I -- and millions of others -- watch Florida's struggle to name the winner of this year's presidential election. I do not believe that, heading into the election, there was a concerted effort to deny Americans the right to vote. We are human and make mistakes. We design ballots that confuse voters. Polling equipment breaks down. Polls may not open as scheduled because workers did not show up on time. These irregularities were not limited to Florida; I experienced some of them at my polling place in Atlanta. However, regardless of the intent, these irregularities had the effect of denying people the right to vote. Our Constitution does not reserve this right to Americans who can decipher a confusing ballot. A great nation should not deny the right because a tiny piece of paper stubbornly clings to a ballot. We dishonor the sacrifice of those who fought for this right when we spend countless hours trying to keep a ballot, a vote, a voice, from being heard. Immediately after the elections, analysts told us that this experience would teach us that every vote counts. I fear that the current vote counting teaches us the opposite. If you were confused by a butterfly ballot, your vote does not count. If the military neglected to postmark your absentee ballot, your vote does not count. If your ballot has a dimpled, hanging or pregnant chad, your vote does not count. Unless there are drastic changes in the way votes are being tallied, these are the lessons we will learn in Florida. The makers of the ballot machines have told us that the most accurate way to count the ballots is by hand. So, count them by hand we must, even if it means recounting all six million ballots cast in Florida. We must not allow shrill and frantic voices to drown out the will of the American people. There can be no legitimacy in an election absent the principle of one person, one vote. In an election this close, every vote must count, and every vote must be counted. ------- John Lewis, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from Georgia, is the author of "Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement."
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