- April 12 - While stories of Florida's
hanging and dimpled chads have covered news pages since Election
Day, a new Nation investigation reveals that Florida elections
officials -- including Secretary of State Katherine Harris --
engineered an electoral system that was stacked against black
voters from the start and was in place well before the election.
According to the investigation by Pulitzer Prize-winning
journalist John Lantigua in the April 30 issue of The Nation,
Florida's black community -- bitterly at odds with Jeb Bush --
mounted a voter registration drive that increased black voter
turnout in November by an astounding 65 percent. In what many in
the black community saw as a direct response to their efforts, the
state took steps that led to the wrongful disenfranchisement of
many current voters and failed to make preparations to accommodate
the huge numbers of new black voters.
"Despite one well-reported incident involving a police
checkpoint near a polling place, disfranchisement 2000-style did
not depend on intimidation," Lantigua writes in The Nation.
"Instead, Florida state elections officials and hired data
crunchers used computers to target thousands of voters, many of
whom were then purged from the voter rolls without reason. And many
thousands more saw their votes thrown out as a result of
error-prone voting machines and poorly designed ballots, the
results of an underfunded and chaotic electoral system."
In all, some 200,000 Floridians were either not permitted to
vote on Election Day or had their ballots discarded and not
counted. A large and disproportionate number were black, according
to The Nation, which has been recognized for its ongoing reporting
on the Florida election debacle.
"The Nation's investigation into the way Florida, under Governor
Jeb Bush, systematically purged the state's voter rolls and denied
tens of thousands of African Americans their right to vote is a
frightening wake-up call for our democracy," according to Nation
Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. "The revelations in our story cannot
undo the corruption in Florida's election last November, but they
can and should spur reforms that will ensure that 2000 is the last
time that African Americans will be unfairly targeted and denied
their rights in the voting booth in Florida or anywhere in
A pending NAACP lawsuit charges Secretary of State Harris and
other Florida officials with violating the 14th Amendment and the
1965 Voter Rights Act and demands many reforms to the Florida
electoral system. In its March interim assessment, the U.S. Civil
Rights Commission said it had uncovered evidence that is likely to
lead to "findings of probable discrimination."
According to The Nation's investigation:
-- In 1998 and 1999, Florida contracted with two data analysis
firms to purge the voter rolls of felons and other ineligible
voters. (Florida is one of only 14 states in the nation that does
not restore voting rights to felons who have completed their
sentences.) In both cases, the results were error-filled and
targeted blacks in extremely disproportionate number. "I felt like
I was slingshotted back into slavery," Reverend Willie David
Whiting, a black pastor from Tallahassee, said after arriving at
his polling place to find himself listed as a convicted felon and
refused the right to vote despite never having spent a day in jail.
-- Emmett "Bucky" Mitchell IV, the assistant general counsel to
the Florida Division of Elections who headed the purge effort, knew
that the purge lists would include people who were not felons
because of the intentionally loose standards used to draw up the
purge lists. Mitchell justified the standards to The Nation on the
following grounds, "Just as some people might have been removed
from the list who shouldn't have been, some voted who shouldn't
have." In other words, because an ineligible person may have voted
somewhere else, it was acceptable to deny a legitimate voter the
right to vote. Mitchell said this policy was approved by the former
head of the Division of Elections, after consultation with
Secretary of State Harris.
-- More than a year before the election, thousands of complaints
were already coming in from citizens who had been unfairly purged.
Many more wouldn't discover the state's errors until Election Day
when they were not allowed to vote.
-- Florida state officials refused to appropriate $100,000
targeted for voter education that had been requested by county
supervisors -- education that was critical for many of November's
first-time black voters. The lack of informed voters, along with
the lack of sufficient machines and poll workers, contributed to
the chaos on Election Day.
The Nation also details numerous other problems that came to
light after the election, including cases of voters who registered
in plenty of time but were not allowed to vote. The Puerto Rican
Legal Defense and Education Fund documented numerous incidents
where Latino voters were improperly denied the right to vote. The
organization also cited polling places that could not provide
bilingual ballots and had no bilingual poll workers, as required by
law. Furthermore, there were many occasions where Florida electoral
laws were misunderstood by poll workers to the detriment of voters.
Nation contributor Gregory Palast documented Florida's improper
purging of out-of-state felons, whose right to vote had been
automatically restored, in a report in the February 5, 2001 issue
of The Nation, which can be accessed at www.thenation.com.
Subsequently, Florida changed its policy.
John Lantigua shared the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for investigative
reporting for his work at the Miami Herald on voter fraud in the
1997 Miami mayoral race.
For a copy of this article or to set up an interview with John
Lantigua, contact Danielle Veith of The Nation at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jackie Howell of Blue Ridge
Communications at email@example.com. This
article will also be available at www.thenation.com
by the evening
of Thursday, April 12.