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WEB POSTED 07-09-2002
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Election 2000 lawsuit misses mark

by C. Stone Brown
—Guest Columnist—

Seventeen months after George W. Bush entered the presidency in a cloud of controversy, the Justice Department finally has filed a civil lawsuit against three Florida counties. But the long-awaited lawsuit only exacerbates the election dispute.

The lawsuit doesn’t address one of the biggest complaints by Florida voters: illegal purging of names from the registered-voter rolls. Instead, the Justice Department is citing three Florida counties for failure to provide adequate language assistance to Haitian- Creole and Spanish-speaking citizens.

Ralph F. Boyd, assistant attorney general for civil rights, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that there were ‘’very few voters who actually were prevented from voting.’’ But that doesn’t square with the numbers of complaints filed by Floridians. For instance, the Justice Department logged 11,000 complaints from mostly Black voters yet determined that only 14 warranted an investigation. The NAACP is claiming hundreds, perhaps thousands, were denied the right to cast their ballot in Florida.

The NAACP has filed a class-action lawsuit naming as defendants various Florida officials, including the president’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris and DBT Online (now ChoicePoint), a company with close Republican Party ties that Harris hired to "scrub’’ felons from the voter rolls. The lawsuit claims that Florida officials violated the rights of Black citizens by using an outdated punch-card voting system in precincts with high Black populations, failing to correctly process voter-registration applications and purging eligible voters from voter rolls.

The purging of eligible voters seems to be where most of the fraud took place in Florida. For example, in a study by the Palm Beach Post, at least 1,100 eligible voters, incorrectly listed as felons, were prevented from casting their ballots. However, 1,100 votes seem trivial compared to findings of a recently released book.

Bush’s official 537-vote victory would have been swallowed by the 57,700 names of mostly Blacks who were ‘’scrubbed’’ from the Florida voter rolls five months before the election, according to "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" by investigative journalist Greg Palast. This undoubtedly favored Bush, because Al Gore won 93 percent of Florida’s Black vote.

According to Palast, Florida election officials used flawed lists, provided by DBT Online, that led to numerous errors, such as duplicate names, with no cross-referencing of addresses that would have correctly identified the person. There also were names on the felon list such as Johnny Jackson, an eligible Florida voter, flagged because his name somehow ended up on a list of Texas felons, though he had never been to Texas. Also, Thomas Alvin Cooper was flagged because of a conviction in the year 2007.

There were thousands of names of real felons living in Florida who had the right to vote in Florida during the 2000 presidential election because they were convicted and sentenced in other states that allow felons to vote. Florida is one of eight states that bar felons from voting. Florida now admits that these people had the right to vote in the presidential election, according to Palast.

If a court determines that Blacks were intentionally denied the right to vote, it wouldn’t come as a shock. Since 1865, Blacks have been faced with one scheme after another to dilute their vote, including poll taxes, literacy tests and vouchers of "good character.’’ This is the reason we have a Voting Rights Act.

It is disheartening for a nation to proclaim itself the leader of democracy and yet have thousands of its citizens enter the 21st century denied the same rights they were denied 300 years ago. If justice doesn’t come from our "Justice’’ Department, it may have to come from private lawsuits.

(Freelance writer C. Stone Brown can be reached at [email protected])

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