Florida voters sound alarm on voter purges

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s drive to purge 47,000 more voters from Florida’s voter rolls has touched off angry charges that he is scheming a replay of the 2000 election, when thousands of Florida voters were scrubbed from the rolls to put his brother in the White House.

Florida State Sen. Tony Hill, of Jacksonville, a former longshoreman and an organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), told the World by telephone, “I’m very concerned. An alarm went off inside me that this could be a repeat of 2000 all over again.”

The furor erupted when Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood sent out a new list May 25 of 47,000 names to be purged from voter rolls. All the data was provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement under Gov. Bush’s command, Hill pointed out. County election supervisors meeting in Key West last week said they have found a 6-percent to 7-percent error rate in the list.

“The purge list is not specific enough,” Hill said. “If you happen to have the same name or a similar name as an ex-felon, you might be on that list and have your name expunged.”

Voting rights groups have filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of a lawsuit by CNN and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) asking the courts to order release of the list. “I want access so I can inform every voter who is on it in Senate District One,” Hill said. “Why is this list secret? This is another attempt to suppress our vote.”

Beverly Neal, executive director of the Florida Conference of NAACP branches in Orlando, said access to the list “would give us an opportunity to monitor that list in light of what happened in 2000 when so many people were disenfranchised.”

“It is our responsibility to fight to see that the right to vote is protected,” she told the World. “Statewide, our branches have registered close to 10,000 new voters.”

In 2000, Hill and Kendrick Meek, both serving in the Florida Legislature at the time, spearheaded a voter registration drive that resulted in nearly 900,000 Black voters casting ballots in the 2000 election – 90 percent against Bush, 15 percent of the 5.9 million votes cast in Florida.

Hill said the labor and civil rights movement seeks to equal that turnout to defeat Bush in Florida this Nov. 2. ACORN has collected 800,000 signatures to put a question on the November ballot to establish a minimum wage in Florida. The Florida Supreme Court is expected to rule soon whether to grant it ballot status. “This initiative will be the ‘flavor of the year’ in giving people a reason to turn out and vote,” Hill said. “We’re trying to draw people out based on their needs. This election is not just about the president. It’s about the House and Senate. It’s about quality of life, civil rights, civil liberties.”

Neal decried the Bush record on issues vital to the people. “Health insurance is not available, prescription drugs are not affordable,” she said. The Bush-Cheney campaign “didn’t even bother to answer” a questionnaire the national NAACP sent to candidates, she noted. “That was a slap in the face not only to the NAACP but to everyone touched by the issues in that questionnaire.”

In 2000, then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris hired Database Technologies (DBT) to purge Florida’s voter rolls. At least 57,700 voters, disproportionately African American, were removed as “ex-felons.”

The NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund filed a lawsuit containing proof that 19,000 people were improperly purged. (The margin between Bush and Democrat Al Gore was less than 1,000 votes in the state.) Florida promised to restore these voters but only 800 voters have been reinstated so far.

Leon County Election Supervisor Ion Sancho said Harris sent him a list of 694 supposed felons in 2000 but his office was able to verify that only 34 actually had a criminal record. The new Secretary of State has sent him a purge list of 820 to check for criminal records.

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, part of an “Election Protection” coalition in Florida, wrote to Hood June 1, calling it “simply outrageous that you would give county supervisors just seven working days to devise a timetable for a new purge of the voter rolls when in more than eight months you have taken absolutely no action to follow up on the restoration of voting rights of voters improperly purged from the rolls in 1999 and 2000.”

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