Sunday, July 11, 2004

“This Smells”

From the Miami Herald:

TALLAHASSEE – Florida election officials conceded an enormous mistake Saturday and abandoned the controversial list the state was using to remove convicted felons from the voter rolls.

After defending the list against mounting criticism as late as Friday evening, the state made an about-face. The reason: a flaw in a database that failed to capture most felons who classified themselves as Hispanic.

Secretary of State Glenda Hood announced at 1 p.m. Saturday that an “unintentional and unforeseen discrepancy . . . related to Hispanic classification” had forced the agency to eliminate the entire list from further consideration this year.

The announcement was an embarrassment for top state officials from Gov. Jeb Bush down, and it was enthusiastically lauded by voting rights advocates — and those on the list.

The Division of Elections had created the list of registered voters with possible felony convictions. It then directed local elections supervisors across Florida to identify convicted felons whose voting rights had not been restored and remove them from the rolls.

Yet of the nearly 48,000 names, just 61 were classified as Hispanics, in a state where Hispanics comprise 8 percent of the population.

“We are deeply concerned and disappointed that this has occurred,” Hood said in the statement. “…We will be reviewing the issue to determine how it could have occurred and why it was not recognized until now.”

The result of the flaw: The state will now allow individual county election supervisors to create their own system of removing ineligible voters. The Florida Constitution requires that ex-felons be prohibited from voting unless the right is restored.

Gov. Bush, in Miami at an event honoring military personnel, said the failure to list Hispanics in the screening process “was an oversight and a mistake and that’s why we’re pulling it back.”

“This will give us the proper amount of time to make sure that the database for screening felons will be a useful tool for supervisors,” he said.

“THIS SMELLS”

Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation, who was co-counsel in a lawsuit challenging an earlier 2000 purge list, said: “This smells to high heaven. It strains credulity to think that Hispanics were somehow left off the list, while African Americans remained on the list.”

Hispanics in Florida register Republican more often than Democratic. By contrast, more than 90 percent of the nearly one million black voters in Florida are Democrats.

The state’s sudden decision surprised some civil rights advocates, who last week called the list “infirm.”

In a letter written just Friday to the Florida Justice Institute and obtained by The Herald, an attorney for the state wrote: “If your request to withdraw the `entire list’ was implemented, the Division of Elections would be in violation of Florida law.”

Yet, a day later, the state changed course.

In other words – busted!