Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Delays, Purge Hit Voter Rolls

Photo by: JAY NOLAN
Willie Johnson, 69, can no longer vote because of criminal records from the 1950's. Johnson says he's been voting for the passed 30 years but has been unable to since 2000.

By WILLIAM MARCH wmarch@tampatrib.com - Published: Jun 7, 2004

TAMPA - For the second straight presidential election, Florida's law against former felons voting, a law grounded in Old South racism, may prevent thousands of people from voting.
Some of those people may be legally entitled to vote. Others won't be able to navigate the bureaucratic hurdles of the state's clemency process to get their rights restored in time for the election.

But the state government is concentrating on removing as many former felons from voting rolls as possible, even though critics charge that it risks disenfranchising some who are legally entitled to vote. Meanwhile, those critics charge, the state is dragging its feet on restoring those wrongly removed from voter rolls in 2000.

Florida is one of only seven states with laws that prevent former felons from voting unless they go through a long and sometimes difficult process of having their rights restored.

That law, which wasn't enforced by the state before the controversial 2000 presidential race, caused hundreds or possibly thousands of voters - no one knows for sure - to be turned away from the polls in 2000, some wrongly, because of errors in a state ``purge list'' of former felons.

Today, as the 2004 election nears:

* More than 43,000 Floridians are on the waiting list to have their rights restored, some of whom first learned in 2000, after voting for years, that they weren't legally entitled to vote. The restoration process can take years, and the list is growing, not shrinking.

* Hundreds of people wrongly removed from voter rolls in 2000, who never committed felonies or whose rights had been restored, may not yet have been put back on the rolls.

* A lawsuit charges that Florida's felon disenfranchisement is unconstitutional and affects up to 600,000 people.

Despite all this, state officials have just sent elections supervisors in Florida's 67 counties another list of 47,000 names of individuals who may have committed felonies in the past, telling the supervisors to purge their rolls again.

Some supervisors say they don't have the staff, expertise or money to do the purge without the same kind of errors as in 2000.

Legally purged voters, meanwhile, won't find out about it until they get a letter from an election supervisor this summer - too late to have their rights restored for this election - or are turned away on Election Day.

The vast majority of them are black and would be likely to vote Democratic.

In Miami-Dade County, for example, blacks are 20 percent of the population but make up 65 percent of those on the 2000 felon purge lists.

Asked why a new purge list is going out less than six months before the election, Secretary of State Glenda Hood said it's part of establishing a statewide voter list, as required by the state's 2001 election reform law. The law was passed in the wake of the disputed presidential vote.

``The legislation mandated that as soon as this process [of identifying improperly registered names] was complete, the information be sent out,'' said Hood, a Republican and an appointee of Gov. Jeb Bush.

But Hood acknowledged ``there is no particular time line'' in the law for sending purge lists to county elections supervisors.

Hood's staff didn't follow through on a promise to have a staff attorney call a reporter to discuss precisely what part of the new law requires that the list go out now.

When news of the new purge list broke about three weeks ago, it drew a chorus of anger from civil rights advocates who had sued the state over the 2000 election problems.

``Frankly, the state should first fix the problems with people who were erroneously thrown off in 2000 before they start on another purge,'' said Elliot Mincberg, legal director of People for the American Way Foundation, a liberal-oriented advocacy group.

State officials are seeking to keep the new purge list secret, but CNN is suing to get a copy. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Tallahassee, and several news organizations including The Tampa Tribune plan to join the lawsuit.


Amazing how blatant an attempt this is to throw the Reselection to Jeb's brother GW.


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