When the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears before his son, the faithful officer Marcellus sums up the reason for the apparition’s appearance in his famous line, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

If the good Marcellus were with us today surveying the presidential election, I have no doubt he would instead allege, “Something is rotten in the state of Florida.” For indeed a stench is arising from my former home state, emitting from political maneuvers which undermine the very basics of our democratic process.

We’ll start with Ezzie Thomas of Orange County, a 73-year-old black man who has been successful in turning out the African-American vote.

Mr. Thomas, along with other elderly black grass-root political activists, has been visited by state troopers carrying side fire arms in a hunt for evidence of electoral fraud. Yes, it is highly unusual for state troopers to be charged with conducting this type of investigation.

It appears that Orange County was carried by Gore in 2000, the first Democrat to carry the county since 1948. More threatening is that the county elected Buddy Dyer, a Democrat, in 2003 to serve as mayor of Orlando, the county’s hub.

Assertions were made that voter fraud was responsible for the Democrat’s success. It matters not that the Department of Law Enforcement’s own investigation, reviewed by the Florida Division of Elections, concluded, “There was no basis to support the allegations of election fraud.”

What does matter is that 40-50 elderly black grassroots organizers, who still remember the role played by state troopers during Jim Crow in their “investigations” of voter registration drives among blacks, are being intimidated from organizing black voters today against the state governor’s brother.

As if frightening elderly blacks is not enough, Glenda Hood, the Secretary of State, the state’s top election officer, created a list of felons to be purged from the voting rolls.

Florida is among the few states in the nation that bar convicted felons from voting. During the 2000 election, many blacks, never convicted of anything, were denied the right to vote because their names were incorrectly purged from the list.

So you can imagine the concern over the next list created to purge names. Once the list was completed, Ms. Hood refused to make the list public. It took a lawsuit to release the names on that list.

Surprise, surprise. Voters who were about to be denied the right to vote included more than 22,000 African-Americans, who generally vote Democrat, but only 61 Cuban Hispanics, who lean Republican. Of course, Ms. Hood was forced to scrap the list.

But it doesn’t stop here. During August primary election many voters were prevented from voting because they did not have photo identification. Those who lack such things as driver’s licenses are primarily the poor who can’t afford cars and who generally vote Democrat.

It matters not that the law allows them to vote anyway if they sign an affidavit confirming their identities. Still, they were simply turned away without being informed that if they sign a piece of paper available at the polling site, they can vote. Ms. Hood is quoted as stating that voters need not be presented with this option.

It gets worse. We all know that having Nader on the ballot negatively affects Kerry. And it’s no secret that Republicans have worked overtime to ensure that Nader be on the ballot of battleground states. Florida is no different.

But as the state’s court was still deciding if Nader should be kept off the ballot, Ms. Hood chose not to wait, but rather dictated that his name be added to the absentee ballots. So much for checks and balances.

But I fear that the rotten stench is not limited to Florida. Consider the unorthodox procedure taken by the Defense Department. Our military will be allowed to vote by faxing or emailing their ballot, only after they waive their rights to a secret ballot. Don’t Cuba and China have a similar system?

And here’s the good part. The contractor responsible for conducting the election, Omega Technologies, recently donated $6,600 to the Republican Party.

Ballots that are not secret open a Pandora’s Box of possible abuse, fraud and pressure to vote correctly. Does anyone else have a problem with this?

And finally, why was the FBI visiting potential political activists, their friends, and their families who planned to demonstrate at the two national conventions? Are political protestors to be viewed as criminals or terrorists? Is free speech now to be monitored?

Indeed, something is rotten. What a shame that our political rhetoric has dulled our sense of smell.

Miguel De La Torre, a Cuban American, is professor of theologies of liberation at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Baptist pastor in Kentucky. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.

Order Miguel De La Torre’s book Reading the Bible from the Margins now from Amazon.com

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