Jeb Bush still doesn't have a good answer for his effort to purge Florida's voter rolls of convicted felons in 1999, the year before the infamous election in which several hundred Sunshine State votes would secure the presidency for his brother, George W. Bush.
Last week, Jeb was queried about the purge that reportedly denied thousands of legal voters of their opportunity to weigh in on the 2000 election. Scott Conroy reports:
Asked during a press conference during a campaign swing through Iowa last week whether he believes that African-Americans were disproportionately affected by those efforts, he waffled a bit before rephrasing the question in his own manner.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think there was any -- no, if you’re going to say, ‘Did the Florida Department of Law Enforcement target African-Americans?’ No.”
But that's not how others recall it going down:
“I’ll never the forget people that came up to me and said, ‘You let them steal our votes,’” Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), who became state's first African-American elected to Congress since Reconstruction when she won her seat in 1992, told The Huffington Post. “So many people were just wiped off the rolls -- people who’d been voting for years and years. You had the obligation to prove that you weren’t a felon.” [...]
“The purge was right out of one of these playbooks in how you diminish minority turnout -- there was absolutely no justification for it,” said Dan Gelber, a former Democratic state legislator and a longtime Bush nemesis.
Head below the fold for more.
Convicted felons were banned from voting in Florida in 1868. State lawmakers passed legislation in 1998 designed to clean up the rolls after voting irregularities were detected in a Miami mayoral race. Bush undertook the felon purge in 1999, the year he took office. But since Florida did not track voters by Social Security numbers, the company contracted to do the purge, Database Technologies Inc. (DBT), instead attempted to match voter records with felons' names and corresponding birth dates and then purge away. It was far from perfect, to say the least.
It became immediately clear that the effort was generating a slew of false positives. Voters in good standing, who happened to share names with convicted felons, but had never been in trouble with the law, were being taken off the voting rolls. [...]
Estimates vary on just how many non-felons in Florida were wrongly denied the right to vote on Election Day, but the total was at least 1,100, according to a 2001 Palm Beach Post analysis, and may have been much higher.
Though Bush had delegated responsibility for the purge and mostly tried to distance himself from the process, a subsequent investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights took issue with Bush's role in the matter.
The report found a “strong basis” for determining that violations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act had occurred during the election in Florida.
African-Americans were nearly 10 times more likely than white voters to have their ballots discounted in Florida, the report found, and it singled out for criticism the felon voter purge’s “sloppy and irresponsible” implementation.
Quoting from the report
"Florida’s overzealous efforts to purge voters from the rolls, conducted under the guise of an anti-fraud campaign, resulted in the inexcusable and patently unjust removal of disproportionate numbers of African American voters from Florida’s voter registration rolls for the November 2000 election." [...]
“The governor, the secretary of state, or the director of the Division of Elections should have provided clear instructions to their subordinates on list maintenance strategies that would protect eligible voters from being erroneously purged from the voter registration rolls."
Unfortunately, the intervening years have done little to repair the damage that has been done to the voting rights of African Americans in the state.
According to a 2012 study by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group advocating for judicial sentencing reform, Florida continues to have the highest rate of African-American disenfranchisement in the country with 23 percent of the adult African-American population in the state barred from voting.