On June 8 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights approved a report on the 2000 presidential election in Florida that found "widespread voter disenfranchisement." Among the report's findings was the statistic that 14.4 percent of the votes cast by African-Americans voter were rejected, compared to 1.6 percent for nonblacks. The commission report echoed state and national investigations, including a review by theWashington Post, that revealed a wide range of problems with election procedures in Florida. Problems identified included miscounted absentee ballots, unreliable voting machines, and inconsistent decisions by county election officials. As reported earlier in The Dubya Report the worst procedural error was a bungled effort by state election officials and a data processing contractor to purge felons from the state voter rolls.
The Washington Post reported recently that "at least 2000 [former] felons whose voting rights had been restored in other states" were kept off the rolls in Florida, and in many cases denied the right to vote. Equally disturbing, a state task force concluded that irregularities were "most serious in precincts with large numbers of elderly, low-income, immigrant, minority, or inexperienced voters" -- in other words, predominantly Democratic areas.
The mishandled purge of felons affected black voters disproportionately; nine out of ten African Americans in Florida voted Democratic in the 2000 election. Although there has been no official proof of a campaign to disenfranchise blacks, the Post reports a widespread feeling among blacks that there was an attempt to diminish the power of their votes. 85% of those polled recently told the Post that they felt there was a deliberate attempt to limit their political power. A final report from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which is investigating the Florida election, is due next month. The Commissions called the preliminary evidence "disturbing" and said it "may ultimately support findings of prohibited discrimination."
The sentiment was echoed by politicians and activists. Donna Brazile, who was campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "There was a systematic disenfranchisement of people of color and poor people. I think in all the years I've spent organizing, I've never seen anything like it in my life." Congressman John Lewis, who fought in the civil rights struggles of the 60s, said "I think there was incompetence. But I also think there was a deliberate systematic effort to weed out all possible African-American voters....The whole thing was a deliberate effor to suppress the black vote."
Certainly the cast of characters does nothing to diminish the impression of collusion. After all, the ruckus was taking place in a state governed by Jeb Bush, George W. Bush's brother. Dubya's father had become director of the CIA in 1975, just about the time it was revealed that the CIA had spent nearly $8 million influencing elections in Chile. And the Republican's chief lawyer served as Secretary of State during the time CIA director George H.W. Bush was President.
The roll purge, conducted by Database Technologies, now Choice Point, Inc., was apparently designed to be fraught with errors. Since in many of its records Florida does not keep Social Security numbers, the felon list was constructed using name, and date of birth. It also included names of individuals who did not exactly match the criteria, ensuring that there would be some errors. According to the Post "that was how the state intended the plan to work." State director of elections confirmed this, saying "The decision was made to do the match in such a way as not to be terribly strict on the name." Local election supervisors were left with the task of determining the validity of the felon list for their area. In some counties people on the list were required to prove they were not felons in order to vote. Other counties sent certified letters notifying residents that they were on the list, and if they did not respond, removed them from voter rolls. This practice in particular was criticized by civil rights groups.
In the 2000 election, black voter turnout in Florida had increased 65% over 1996, largely as a backlash to Governor Jeb Bush's plan to end affirmative action in college admissions and state contracts. Election Day problems in black voting districts included malfunctioning voting machines, confusion over ballots, and names missing from voting lists. In many cases polling place workers were unable to verify missing names because they could not get through to county election offices. Voters reported having to wait so long that they eventually gave up and left to go to work. Fred Galey, the Brevard County election supervisor dismissed the complaints, saying many voters were looking for something to "bitch about." The Civil Rights Commission, however, suggested that the testimony at their hearings indicated there were grounds for complaints, saying "We know there were barriers to people voting. What we don't know is whether those barriers were the result of discrimination or knuckleheadedness."
Legislators have criticized Database Technologies for sloppy work, but the company maintains it delivered exactly what was specified. In the words of a company spokesman, the list "was exactly what the state wanted. They said, 'The counties will verify the information, so you don't have to.'"
Seelye, Katherine Q. "Divided Civil Rights Panel Approves Election Report" NY Times 9 June 2001
Pierre, Robert E. "Botched Name Purge Denied Some the Right to Vote" Washington Post 31 May 2001.
Eversley, Melanie "Election Reform: Florida's flawed vote haunts minorities" Atlanta Journal-Constitution 28 May 2001.