Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election
Letter of Transmittal
The President of the Senate
The Speaker of the House of Representatives
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held public hearings in Tallahassee on January 11–12, 2001, and in Miami on February 16, 2001. The purpose of the hearings was to investigate allegations that Florida voters were prevented from casting ballots or that their ballots were not counted in the November 2000 presidential election. The Commission initiated this investigation after it received allegations of widespread voter disenfranchisement in Florida. The Commission is authorized—and obligated—to investigate claims of deprivations that are “a result of any pattern or practice of fraud,” or that infringe on the right of citizens “to vote and have votes counted.”
The Commission’s investigation sought to determine whether isolated or systematic practices and/or policies by governmental entities denied eligible Florida citizens their right to vote. The investigation focused on who was responsible for making the critical decisions regarding resource allocations for Election Day activities, the reasons these decisions were made, and the effect these judgments had on specific communities.
During the hearings, the Commission received testimony from more than 100 witnesses, including the governor, the secretary of state, the attorney general, a representative of DBT Online (the company involved in state-sponsored removal of felons from Florida’s voter registration lists), the director of the Florida Division of Elections, the general counsel of the Florida Elections Commission, and the co-chairperson and executive director of the Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology established by the governor. Additional testimony was also heard from current and former Florida state and county officials, including county supervisors of elections, county commission officials, and law enforcement personnel as well as experts on election reform issues, election laws and procedures, and voting rights. Registered Florida voters also testified on the obstacles they encountered when attempting to participate in the November election. Both hearings included an open session in which the public was invited to testify about election procedures or personal voting experiences in the November election.
The report generated by the hearings, Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election, concludes that many eligible Florida voters were, in fact, denied their right to vote, with the disenfranchisement disproportionately affecting African Americans. The report also contains recommendations, stressing that any electoral reform must include clear guidance, responsibility and accountability measures that include effective monitoring, and adequate resources to ensure meaningful implementation of these recommendations.
The report analyzes the Voting Rights Act of 1965, its subsequent amendments, and other applicable statutes. It evaluates the evidence of voter disenfranchisement, along with summaries of the testimony of people of color, individuals with disabilities, individuals with language needs, and election employees who witnessed first hand what occurred at Florida’s polling places.
The report contains an assessment of state election accountability and responsibility issues, including an examination of the state’s and counties’ allocation of financial resources, Election Day preparations and resources, and identifies who had the ultimate authority for ensuring full participation in the Florida election process.
The report also looks at Florida election law procedures for voting in two broad categories: the use of affidavits to resolve problems arising at the polling place and the use of absentee ballots. It also discusses the implementation of Florida’s list maintenance obligations and its subsequent effect on voters. The report addresses the recent Florida electoral reform legislation signed by the governor after the Commission began its investigation. The Commission commends the legislation, including the elimination of punch cards, paper ballots, mechanical lever machines, and central-count voting systems as well as the addition of provisional balloting, but notes the legislation was deficient in several areas of concern and would only be effective if the implementation matches the legislature’s intent to eliminate the problems.
To promote and protect the voting rights of Florida residents—as well as voters in all states—the Commission recommends that sufficient funding and expert assistance be made available to ensure adequate voter education and proper training for election officials, especially in those jurisdictions with new technology. Jurisdictions should be provided with the necessary funding to replace outdated voting technology and standards for new technology should be adopted. Election officials should also train precinct managers and poll workers on providing assistance to voters, especially individuals with disabilities and non-English-speaking voters. True provisional balloting must be enacted or expanded so that those denied the opportunity to vote on Election Day would have a right to appeal this determination prior to the canvassing of the election or the counting of ballots—eliminating, among other things, eligible voters being erroneously purged or absent from registration rolls. There must be meaningful measures to protect the integrity of the ballot box from fraud. The Commission, while making these and other recommendations to remedy the obstacles encountered by Florida voters, asks the Justice Department and the Civil Rights Division in the office of the Florida attorney general to investigate any official improprieties in the election and hold accountable those state election officials whose actions or failure to act violated relevant federal and/or state laws.
Voting is the language of our democracy. As the Supreme Court observed, “no right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live.” It is clear that many people in Florida were denied this precious right. The Commission’s investigation and report also demonstrate that although this denial in Florida fell most heavily on African Americans, it also affected many others, including, but not limited to, individuals with disabilities, people requiring language assistance, and former felons.
Some Americans, who wanted to vote, were eligible to vote, and who tried to vote, were nevertheless denied this precious right to vote. The error-plagued election in Florida must never be repeated. It is the duty of the federal government to promote the exercise of the right to vote when states fail to do so—thus making federal election reform measures essential. The Commission implores you to support appropriate legislation to ensure that the voices of all eligible voters are heard on Election Day.
For the Commissioners,