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Abused and Conned in Florida

For the Guardian and Observer (UK)
Sunday October 31, 2004
Voters claim abuse of electoral rolls.
Students say they were conned into registering twice.

An Observer investigation in the United States has uncovered widespread allegations of electoral abuse, many of them going uninvestigated despite complaints of what would appear to be criminal attempts to manipulate voter lists.
The allegations, which come just two days before Americans go to the polls in one of the most tightly contested elections in a generation, threaten to plunge Tuesday’s count into a legal minefield and overshadow even the elections of 2000.
The claims come as both Republicans and Democrats put in place up to 2,000 lawyers across the country to challenge attempts to manipulate the vote in swing states.
Although allegations of misconduct have been levelled at both parties recently, the majority of complaints that have been identified in The Observer’ s investigation involved claims against local Republicans.
The claims, made by the BBC’s Newsnight, follow alleged attempts by Republicans to illegally suppress the votes in key states. Republican spokesmen deny these allegations.
One of the more serious claims is that no action has been taken in a complex fraud, where more than 4,000 Florida students were allegedly conned into signing a form which could lead them to be doubly registered and void their votes. The Florida Law Enforcement Department has told the complainants that it is too busy to investigate.
In Colorado too, Democrats are complaining about an attempt to remove up to 6,000 convicted felons from the electoral roll, at the behest of the state’s Republican secretary of state, Donetta Davidson, despite a US federal law that prohibits eliminating a voter’s rights within 90 days of an election to give time for the voter to protest.
The attempt to purge the list of alleged felons would appear to be a re-run of the attempt by Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s secretary of state to remove 93,000 citizens from voter rolls as felon convicts are not allowed to vote.
Investigations appear to have established that only 3 per cent of the largely African-American list were illegal voters.
That action led to a vote in July by the US Civil Rights Commission to open a criminal and civil investigation of the Jeb Bush administration’s purge of voters, including indications of concealing evidence subpoenaed by the commission’s investigators. The new claims follow the Newsnight revelation last week of confidential documents from inside Republican headquarters in Florida and Washington which the programme claimed suggested a plan – possibly in violation of US law – to stop thousands of African-Americans from voting on election day.
The programme produced two leaked emails, prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director in Washington DC, containing a 15-page list. The list contains 1,886 names and addresses of voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democratic areas of Jacksonville, Florida.
An elections supervisor in Tallahassee, when shown the list, told Newsnight: ‘The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day.’
Ion Sancho, not affiliated with any party, noted that Florida law allows political party operatives inside polling stations to stop voters from obtaining a ballot. They may then only vote ‘provisionally’ after signing an affidavit attesting to their legal voting status.
Mass challenges have never occurred in Florida. Indeed, says Mr Sancho, not one challenge has been made to a voter ‘in the 16 years I’ve been supervisor of elections. Quite frankly, this process can be used to slow down the voting process and cause chaos on election day and discourage voters from voting.’
Sancho calls it intimidation. And it may be illegal. In Washington, well-known civil rights attorney Ralph Neas noted that US federal law prohibits the targeting voters, even if there is a basis for the challenge, if race is a factor in targeting the voters.
The list of Jacksonville voters covers an area with a majority of black residents.
When asked by Newsnight for an explanation of the list, Republican spokespeople claimed that the list merely records returned mail from either fundraising solicitations or newly registered voters to verify addresses for purposes of campaign literature.
Republican state campaign spokeswoman, Mindy Tucker Fletcher, stated the list was not put together ‘in order to create’ a challenge list, but refused to say it would not be used in that manner.
The Observer has found that many people are soldiers sent overseas. Republicans acknowledge the list was created by compiling lists of voters whose addresses have changed whose only use, say critics, would be to challenge voters on election day on the basis that their voting address is not valid. But this ‘caging’ method captures those whose addresses have changed because they have been sent to Iraq or other places. The list includes homeless shelter residents, casting doubt on suggestions the list was created from fundraising solicitations for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Guardian Unlimited — Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
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