Sunday, July 11, 2004

Election Tampering?

ORLANDO SENTINEL - Florida elections officials decided Saturday to scrap a list of "potential felons" after discovering another flaw that could have proved politically explosive for a state trying to run an undisputed election. The database, maligned for weeks by civil-rights advocates, was dumped because it shielded virtually all Hispanic felons from being purged from the voter rolls. The admission came on top of earlier errors, such as including thousands of people on the list who already had their rights restored.

Florida's Hispanic population includes a large number of Cuban-Americans, who vote overwhelmingly Republican. Black Floridians overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

Because the list included only 61 Hispanic names and more than 22,000 blacks, it was clear that black Floridians had a much greater chance of being dropped from voter rolls.

Such action would have proved a haunting echo of the 2000 presidential election, when thousands of voters, many of them black, were turned away from polling places because of errors involving a similar felon list, or had their ballots disqualified because of other irregularities.

"This smells to high heaven," said Ralph Neas, president of the People For the American Way Foundation, another group battling the state over the felons list. "It strains credulity to think that Hispanics were somehow left off the list, while African-Americans remained on the list."

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Wednesday that although Hispanics make up 17 percent of Florida's population, only 61 voters were identified as "Hispanic" on the statewide purge list of nearly 48,000 potential felons.

After a Leon County judge ordered the list released to media groups after a lawsuit led by cable giant CNN, a computer analysis by the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel showed more than 2,000 names of felons were listed whose voting rights had been restored.

Sancho said the latest disparity involving Hispanic names would never have been revealed if the list had not been made public.

"None of these records would've come to light if the secretary's office was successful in keeping the list secret," he said. "I think there should be an investigation into how this list was put together by the department."

Sec. of State Hood has said little about how the list was developed by her office, in cooperation with Accenture, a technology firm whose lobbyists include Van Poole, a former state Republican Party chairman, as well as two former party staffers and a former top aide to Bush.

County officials will now go back to their conventional approach of verifying voter names based on lists of felons provided by local court clerks, Cowles said.

The change effectively returns Florida to the system used before Bush took office, said Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida executive director. (Jeb Bush was elected in 1998)

"Purging was based on the good judgment of county supervisors," he said. "There's still going to be purging. It's just not going to be polluted by the list developed by state officials."

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