ACLU Says Civil Rights Commission Report on Florida Elections Proves Need for Federal Legislative Action

June 8, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today said that the problems identified by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission with Florida’s handling of the 2000 election provide the strongest evidence yet of the need for federal legislation to ensure fair elections in America.

“Even though civil rights leaders have criticized the Commission for not going far enough,” said LaShawn Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel, “the Commission’s report does prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Congress must act quickly to put a strong voting reform package on President Bush’s desk.”

According to news reports, the Commission found that blacks were more likely than whites to have their ballots rejected and acknowledged that “injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency” plagued the election overall. However, the ACLU of Florida has criticized the report for not going far enough because it found no “conclusive evidence” that state officials intentionally disenfranchised thousands of blacks Hispanic and Haitian voters across the state.

The ACLU said the state’s purging process was part of an orchestrated project by state leaders to suppress opposition votes. For example, Elections Supervisor for Hillsborough County Pam Iorio has stated that while blacks represent about 15 percent of countywide voters, they made up approximately 54 percent of the voters on the purge list during last November’s election.

Saying it would provide the most comprehensive response to all the problems seen in Florida and other states in the 2000 election, most of the civil rights community has endorsed legislation introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT, and Rep. John Conyers, D-MI.

“Although the 2002 and 2004 elections may seem distant,” Warren added, “we are already very late if we want to get the reforms in place to achieve equality in the polling place.”

In addition to working for election reform in Congress, the ACLU has also already filed lawsuits in Georgia, Illinois, Florida, California and Missouri challenging their unequal and defective voting systems and technology. In all four cases, the ACLU targets the discrepancies created by the use of the pre-scored punch card system in some areas and better systems in other areas.

“Our hope is to have federal legislation that effectively deals with the problems identified in the 2000 election and which provides a uniform structure for state legislatures,” said Warren. “The best way to ensure a fair election in 2002 is to have the same guidelines for state accountability and procedure for everyone.”

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