Saturday, July 03, 2004

One Big Swamp 

The Florida Division of Elections' felon purge list has been available for public viewing for just over a day now, and the Miami Herald has already identified a minimum of 2,119 voters whose names are not supposed to be on it:
More than 2,100 Florida voters -- many of them black Democrats -- could be wrongly barred from voting in November because Tallahassee elections officials included them on a list of felons potentially ineligible to vote, a Herald investigation has found.

A Florida Division of Elections database lists more than 47,000 people the department said may be ineligible to vote because of felony records. The state is directing local elections offices to check the list and scrub felons from voter rolls.

But a Herald review shows that at least 2,119 of those names -- including 547 in South Florida -- shouldn't be on the list because their rights to vote were formally restored through the state's clemency process . . . .

State elections officials acknowledge there may be mistakes on the list but insist they have built in safeguards to make sure eligible voters are not removed by local election offices. They say they have warned election offices to be diligent before eliminating voters, and have flagged possible cases in which voters on the list may have regained their rights.

''We have been very clear that this database is not to be considered the final word,'' Paul Craft, chief of the division's bureau of voting systems, said Thursday. ``We have told the local supervisors they need to be very careful with it.''

Yet local officials, already overburdened preparing for the election, say shifting the burden to them is opening the door for major problems.

''I have never seen such an incompetent program implemented by the DOE,'' said Leon County elections chief Ion Sancho . . . .

All county elections supervisors are required to investigate each voter on the list, verify whether or not he or she is eligible to vote, then notify by mail suspected felons who have not had their civil rights restored.

The certified letter is supposed to name a time and place voters can appear to explain why they should remain on the rolls.

If supervisors suspect the letters were not received, they're supposed to publish at least one notice in the local newspaper.

If there's no response within 30 days, supervisors must remove the person from the rolls.

No one interviewed by The Herald -- including 53-year-old Walter Gibbons of Miami Gardens, a Vietnam veteran convicted of drug possession in 1973 -- had yet received a letter.
The Herald's speedy action demonstrates why Florida's Republican-controlled legislature in 2001 saw the need to pass a law allowing "only politicians, political action committees, political parties and government officials to obtain copies. Anyone else can view the list, but cannot make copies or take notes while doing so." That law, just struck down by a Florida judge, relied on a perverse reading of the state constitution, which gives every citizen the right to "inspect or copy" public documents. The "or," legislators argued, meant that individuals did not have the right to inspect and copy.

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