06/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Greatest Unknown Scandal of Our Time

The 2000 presidential election was not decided by hanging chads, recounts, a flawed felon list, or intervention by the Supreme Court. It was decided by a far worse scandal that remains unknown to the American people but stands as a warning that our votes are still not safe and secure.

Al Gore lost Florida's vote and the presidential election because Florida officials tossed into the trashcan as invalid more than one out of every ten ballots cast by African-Americans throughout the state. In some counties, nearly 25 percent of ballots cast by blacks were set aside as invalid. In contrast, officials rejected less than one out of every fifty ballots cast by whites statewide.

Most of the rejected ballots cast by African-Americans were not under-voted ballots on which no vote could allegedly be discerned, but over-voted ballots that allegedly included marks for more than one candidate. Ballots were also rejected as over-votes if voters wrote in the same candidate they marked on the ballot. Over-votes were not included in Florida's recount process.

Florida's vast racial disparity in ballot rejection rates defeated Al Gore. If black ballots had been rejected at the same minimal rate as white ballots, more than 50,000 additional black votes would have been counted in Florida's presidential election. Given that more than 90 percent of blacks favored Gore over Bush, Gore would have won Florida by at least 40,000 votes, prevailed in the Electoral College, and become President of the United States on January 20, 2001.

These were the results of a statistical study that I was commissioned to conduct for the United States Commission on Civil Rights and a subsequent analysis published in the Journal of Legal Studies (January 2003). It was not statistically difficult to determine the racial composition of rejected ballots. Voters register by race in Florida so we know the precise racial composition of the vote at every precinct, which are highly segregated by race. Racial disparities in ballot rejection also persisted when controlling for a vast array of other factors such as ballot design, education, literacy, income, age, party control of counties, and first-time voting.

My study was purely statistical and therefore could not establish why Florida rejected ballots cast by blacks and whites at such different rates. My Civil Rights Commission report called for a thorough investigation to find out what really happened in Florida and make sure that ballots would be fully and fairly counted in all states in the future.

No one, however, responded to this call. I did not expect conservatives to look into the election of their favored candidate. But slumbering liberals are no less to blame than conservatives for the lack of national attention to an extraordinary injustice to minorities that determined the outcome of a presidential election. Why no mobilization of protest from the NAACP? The Urban League. The ACLU. The Democratic Party.

Absent public outrage or even knowledge of what happened we will now never discover the reasons for Florida's racial divide in rejected ballots. So we must wish away what really happened in Florida as well as alleged irregularities in the 2004 vote. The Civil Rights Commission has been immobilized by new Bush appointees so it did not launch an investigation of what happened in 2004. We can now only hope that the injustice revealed in Florida - perhaps in another form -- will not plague the current election. Eternal vigilance at every voting precinct must be the watchword this year for everyone who cares about our democracy.