A year and a half after the “battle of Florida” ended with the installation of George W. Bush in the White House, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) is charging that “voter irregularities” marred the 2000 election in at least three Florida counties.

Election officials in Miami-Dade, Osceola and Orange counties confirm that they are in talks with the DOJ over complaints that they failed to provide language assistance to voters with limited proficiency in English which seriously impeded voting rights for Spanish-speaking and Creole-speaking Haitian voters.

The DOJ is also filing suits in Missouri where voters were improperly listed as “inactive” and in Tennessee where a state agency violated proper voter registration procedures. The DOJ has received more than 11,000 complaints from voters that their voting rights were violated in the 2000 election and has 14 active investigations and five potential lawsuits alleging discriminatory treatment of minority voters, improper purging of voter rolls, violations of the “motor voter” registration law, and failure to provide access for disabled voters.

Is this a case of an eleventh hour conversion by Attorney General John Ashcroft? Is the DOJ actually admitting that George W. Bush lost the popular vote in Florida, Tennessee and Missouri? Any admission by the DOJ that thousands of voters were denied their voting rights could lead to that conclusion since Bush claimed a vote lead in Florida of barely over 300 ballots when the Supreme Court ordered the vote count halted.

But critics see dirty tricks in the decision of Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd to push these lawsuits or obtain “voluntary admissions” of wrongdoing and a plan to fix the problems before a lawsuit is filed.

Donna Brazile, who managed Democrat Al Gore’s presidential campaign and now heads the Democratic Party’s Voting Rights Institute, said, “This is a half-hearted attempt to whitewash the department’s lack of action and to sweep aside the pain and humiliation so many voters felt on election day.”

The DOJ’s threatened lawsuits, critics charge, ignore the most outrageous abuse, the purging of at least 8,000 Florida voters who were falsely identified as “felons,” easily enough votes to throw the election to Gore. Sec. of State Katherine Harris, now a candidate for Congress, had contracted with Database Technologies of Boca Raton, Fla., to carry out this voter-purging operation which removed well over 80,000 voters, many of whom learned on election day that they were no longer enrolled.

Gregory Palast, a reporter for The London Observer, exposed the Florida vote purge scandal. He charged last week that the DOJ lawsuits are a maneuver to protect Gov. Jeb Bush, who is seeking reelection, and Harris in the 2002 elections. The DOJ lawsuit, he said, “is a sham,” adding, “Bush’s agencies have figured out a way to do the least damage to candidates Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush. They have aimed their fired at blameless county officials when the disaster was created in Tallahassee, a disaster for Black voters though a blessing to the highly partisan Secretary of State’s office. I fear this is an attempt to undercut the suit by the NAACP against Harris and others more directly responsible.”

Within days of the stealing of the 2000 election, the NAACP filed lawsuits throughout the state of Florida and on May 9 announced out-of-court settlements with several Florida counties in which these local election officials agreed to measures that protect voting rights.

Russell Pelle, a labor activist in Jacksonville, Fla., pointed out that the DOJ did not file a lawsuit in Duvall County, which includes Jacksonville, where the abuse of African-American voters occurred.

The DOJ suits smack of a “preemptive strike” by the Bush administration to undercut the NAACP, organized labor, and other groups fighting for voting rights, he said. “This is an issue in the 2002 elections. The NAACP is putting heavy emphasis on voter registration and assigning poll watchers to every voting place to prevent a repeat of what happened in 2000, when they stole the election. This is going to be a real hard fight.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

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