Archive for Sunday, July 11, 2004

Florida scraps controversial voting list of potential felons

July 11, 2004

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— Florida elections officials said Saturday they would not use a disputed list that was designed to keep felons from voting, acknowledging a flaw that could have allowed convicted Hispanic felons to cast ballots in November.

The glitch in a state that President Bush won by just 537 votes could have been significant; Hispanics in Florida have tended to vote Republican more than Hispanics nationally.

The list had about 28,000 Democrats and around 9,500 Republicans, with most of the rest unaffiliated.

"Not including Hispanic felons that may be voters on the list ... was an oversight and a mistake," Gov. Jeb Bush said. "And we accept responsibility and that's why we're pulling it back."

Gov. Bush said the mistake occurred because two databases that were merged to form the disputed list were incompatible.

The problem in compiling the list was unintentional and unforeseen, said Nicole de Lara, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Glenda Hood.

Florida is one of only a handful of states that does not automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons once they're out of prison.

The decision to scrap the list was made after it was reported that the list contained few people identified as Hispanic; of the nearly 48,000 people on the list created by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, only 61 were classified as Hispanics.

That was because when voters register in Florida, they can identify themselves as Hispanic. But the potential felons database has no Hispanic category, which excludes many people from the list if they put that as their race.

The law enforcement list was compared to the voter rolls to determine who should be barred from voting.

The purge of felons from voter rolls has been a thorny issue since the 2000 presidential election. A private company hired to identify ineligible voters before the election produced a list with scores of errors, and elections supervisors used it to remove voters without verifying its accuracy. A federal lawsuit led to an agreement to restore rights to thousands of voters.

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