Felon Follies

A problem that marred the 2000 ballot is back

Responding to the flurry of complaints, lawsuits, and a U.S. Civil Rights Commission investigation that followed the 2000 election, the Florida legislature in 2001 passed the Florida Election Reform Act. Among other things, the statute provided for creation of a central voter database. That list is regularly checked for dead voters and duplications but is not being checked against the state database for felons -- and will not be until the Justice Department approves the process.

Another reform was the creation of the provisional ballot. In theory, this process would allow anyone scrubbed to vote on Election Day 2002. Iorio admits that a potential voter who hears that his name is not on the list might just walk away. "These are ex-felons," she says. "Maybe they're not eager for any confrontation with officials of the government."

Williams, the Miami attorney, says that provisional ballots are problematic, pointing out that if one is filed at the wrong precinct, it will not be counted. Even after all the litigation and publicity over this issue, Williams says, it is still quite likely that some of those who were purged in 2000 will once again be unable to vote in 2002.

The Department of State's Host says he believes the speculation about thousands of disenfranchised voters has been wildly overstated. "With respect to people who might have been erroneously removed, they've had two years to work that out with the supervisor," Host points out, noting that only two such individuals came forward during the NAACP litigation. "Our feeling is that any voter who has been affected by this has had a lot of notice to address this issue." Still, he adds, "One person who is not able to vote is too many."

Sancho doesn't believe it is the voters' responsibilty to fix the problem. "I think it's incumbent on elections officials to ensure that we don't compound the error of 2000 by disenfranchising legal voters again," he seethes. "We have a duty to allow every lawful voter to vote and to count that vote. We did not do that in 2000, and I, as an elections official, was embarrassed to be a part of the worst election, on a statewide basis, in the history of the United States. We have a moral responsibility to ensure, by whatever means necessary, that that does not occur again."

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