Friday, July 16, 2004

Civil Rights Commission Demands Criminal Probe of Florida Voter Purge 

Laura Rozen of War & Piece predicted yesterday that Knight-Ridder would release a bombshell today. And this wasn't even the one she was talking about:
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said Thursday it will ask the Department of Justice to investigate whether Florida's use of a flawed database to remove felons from the voter rolls was a deliberate attempt to block some voters from casting ballots.

Commissioners, who heard Thursday from the architects of the database as well as its critics, want to know whether the overwhelmingly Democratic and blacks voters on the list were targeted for removal.

"If it was intentional, it may well have been a criminal violation of the Civil Rights Act," said Commissioner Christopher Edley Jr. "It's not just about a sloppy database, it's not just about bureaucracy strapped for resources. It's about the deprivation of a fundamental civil right" . . . .

The rights commission has a contentious history with Florida leaders, especially former Secretary of State Katherine Harris. After the 2000 presidential election, commissioners released a draft assessment of the election in Florida that called Harris and Bush "grossly derelict in fulfilling their responsibilities."

The commission toned down its language in the final report, but Commission Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry made it clear Thursday that she hasn't forgotten - or forgiven - recent history.

"The whole reason why we're having these proceedings is to keep alerting the country to the fact that there are problems, and to try to put people's feet to the fire to make sure they try to solve the problems," Berry said. "So far what we have from Ms. Hood is just a sliding away from the problems."

Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for Hood, said the secretary of state was ``disappointed with the partisan tone'' of the commission meeting. Hood sent a letter to the commission detailing the state's decision on the felon list, but did not attend.

"If they're going to investigate, we would welcome the Department of Justice and work diligently with them," Nash said. "We feel that we have followed the law and what the Florida statutes mandated."

The commission also called on Accenture, the company that helped develop the database of potential felons, to defend its work.

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