Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election
Statement of Commissioner Victoria Wilson
I am delighted to vote in support of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report, Voting Irregularities in Florida During the 2000 Presidential Election. It is a report that shows grasp and reflects a profound belief in one of the basic principles of American democracy: that wrongs can be looked at and identified and spoken about, and that there is the hope that these wrongs can be corrected. I applaud the staff of the Commission for so quickly analyzing and giving shape and coherence to the 118,000 pages of documentary evidence and the 30 hours worth of testimony from the 100 witnesses who came before the Commission to testify under oath.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been underfunded for 13 years. There have been no increases to meet either rising standard costs or the increasing demands placed upon the Commission’s services. In fact, the funding for the Commission during this decade or so has consistently been cut, year after year. Yet in times of crisis, it is to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that people have turned. And it is the Commission that has risen above the general state of fear, inertia, and politics and has willingly moved toward the flashpoint, in an effort to sort out truth from distortion.
While I am in agreement with most of the Commission’s findings on the Florida voting irregularities, I should like to comment on the issue of conspiracy, which the Commission report does not even discuss. Conspiracy is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as an agreement by two or more persons to commit an unlawful act. Was there a conspiracy in the 2000 presidential election in Florida? Not provable—as of today.
But from the many hours of disparate testimony that I heard in both Tallahassee and Miami, regarding the November 2000 election process in Florida, there emerges an interesting confluence of circumstances, a confluence of circumstances that indicates intimidation and harassment of the Florida voters and that was set in motion long before the November election.
I listen as a profession. I listen to writers—historians, scientists, journalists, biographers, playwrights, essayists, psychologists, scholars, and novelists. I listen to them tell stories, true and imagined; and I read narratives. That’s what I do to earn a living.
In Florida, I listened to many hours of testimony, as did the other commissioners and the staff. I listened to a great many narratives. And the disparate details come together to provide an unsettling account of what led up to the events of November 7, 2000.
It begins almost 18 months before November 2000 with the election of a new secretary of state and her taking office in January 1998. To quote from one of the supervisors of elections who testified before the Commission in Tallahassee: Florida’s new secretary of state soon “cleaned out the institutional memory to a large degree of the Division of Elections.”
The Florida Division of Elections director and the assistant director, both of whom had served for many years as key officials of the division, left those positions. Both former officials, who were acquainted with the voting regulations for each of the 67 counties of Florida, were replaced by a new director who was inexperienced and was not familiar with the ways that voting problems and procedures had been resolved in the past.
In a letter dated January 3, 2001, from General Counsel Charles T. Canady of the Office of the Governor for the State of Florida, addressed to Edward A. Hailes, Jr., general counsel of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Mr. Canady wrote, regarding the “statutory responsibility over election and voter related issues,” that, it is the secretary of state that has been entrusted by the legislature with the comprehensive obligation to “obtain and maintain uniformity in the application, operation and interpretation of the election laws.”
Yet the individual supervisors representing the 67 counties of Florida “knew enough not to depend on that office this year because surely they [the Division of Elections officials] were too new. We [the election supervisors] knew more about the process in some cases than they did.”
In addition, there was the testimony of a former Florida secretary of state who served from 1979 to 1986, and whose “number one priority” during his term in office was “election reform.” Jim Smith testified at the Commission’s hearing, that the Division of Elections “shrank over a four-year period from 65 officials down to 37,” making “the ability to supervise and give direction, very, very difficult.” Mr. Smith went on to suggest “that that should be looked into.” Jim Smith also served as the attorney general for the state of Florida, and was most recently co-chair of Governor Jeb Bush’s Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology.
No Funds for Voter Education
Officials knew months in advance that the election was going to be complex. There was an unusually large number of presidential candidates on a ballot that would be confusing to even the most experienced of voters. It was also known that tens of thousands of voters, newly registered, would be voting for the first time.
The secretary of state testified that $100,000 was requested for voter education in her budget but that the request for those funds was turned down. However, the governor of Florida testified that there had been no request of $100,000 in the budget for voter education.
There was $51,000 spent for billboards that warned about voter fraud, and a pamphlet on the same subject was sent out to all Florida voters. But there were no instructions about the ballot itself or sample ballots of each county that would show the voter what the ballot actually looked like; this, in an election where there were 12 candidates for president on the Florida ballot.
During the hearing, I, along with the other commissioners, was shown a sample Florida ballot that had no consistency of layout regarding type, no clarity of design within the row of candidates, and a row of names of presidential candidates that continued on the back of the sample ballot. Much has been written about the lack of clarity in the design of the butterfly ballot. But the sample ballot I saw from Duval County made the butterfly ballot seem, by comparison, a snap to navigate. The Duval ballot looked more like a take-out menu from a delicatessen than a ballot designed to make it easy for an American to vote. Its design was more a dare, than a design that would enable a voter to make a clear, knowing choice of candidates.
Had I seen the ballot for the first time on Election Day, in a voting booth, under pressure of time, with people in line outside of the booth waiting for their turn, I would have looked at the jumble of names in different type faces and the maze of columns, and thrown up my hands and left without voting at all. Voter inexperience would not have been the cause of my blank ballot. I have voted in eight presidential elections and consider myself an experienced voter.
Election supervisors testified before the Commission that they knew there was no money for voter education to be carried out in the weeks and months before the November election. Many of the supervisors testified to their helplessness and frustration in the face of what they knew in advance would be a large voter turnout. They knew they were on their own, without help or resources from the Division of Elections.
One supervisor from Leon Country spoke of his efforts to circumvent what he knew could easily evolve into a state of chaos on November 7, and valiantly tried to head it off by raising funds for voter education on his own, knowing no help would be forthcoming from the Division of Elections, “this in a state that in the past has spent more than $35 million in one year telling Floridians how to play the lottery.”
This supervisor “personally raised money from teachers, lawyers, and other individuals of Leon County so that Leon County could spend a radio and television advertising budget that was totally separate from what the county had given me because the county did not provide much in that area as well, in order to meet some of the needs that we saw coming down the road.” [my underlining]
His plan worked. Leon County had less than 1 percent of spoiled ballots—one of the two lowest counties in the state. But in many of the other counties, where no additional funds were raised to help the voters, chaos and confusion indeed prevailed.
The Mysterious Missing Registration Cards from Motor-Voter
More than 600,000 people were registered by a system called motor-voter when they registered for a driver’s license months in advance of November 2000. They were told their names would appear on registration lists at their polling place. But on November 7, the names of too many motor-voter registrants inexplicably did not appear on registration lists, and those citizens were not allowed to vote.
Inaccurate Lists Compiled by Database Technologies
The state of Florida spent more than $3 million of taxpayer money to hire a company, Database Technologies, whose mandate was to compile the names of former, or present, convicted felons who, under Florida law, had forfeited their civil rights, and would not be eligible to vote.
Election supervisors heard in advance that the Database Technologies lists were inaccurate and should not be relied upon. Many of the poll workers who did use the Database lists were unwittingly contributing to a state of chaos and confusion and intimidation where many law-abiding Americans, anticipating the casting of their vote for the 43rd President of the United States, were told by an election staffer, “Sorry. Step this way. You need to talk to a supervisor. There is a problem.” And were subsequently told something along the lines of, “Sorry but you can’t vote. Your name is on this list of convicted felons. Your civil rights have been revoked.”
In Sum, An Interesting Confluence of Circumstances . . .
A Division of Elections whose key election officials of many years, who knew about the complexities of the voting law in each of the 67 counties, left their positions, and were replaced by a new secretary of state and an inexperienced Elections Division who knew less than the local election supervisors. . . .
No money allocated by the secretary of state to help the voters in an election that was going to be complicated and with extremely heavy voter turnout, and with tens of thousands of first-time voters . . .
A motor-voter registrations glitch in which 600,000 voters registered for the first time, months in advance, many of whom, on their arrival at the polling place, did not find their names on the registration lists and were therefore not allowed to vote . . .
A database company hired by the state of Florida at a cost to the taxpayers of millions of dollars, to compile a list of convicted felons, who by law were prohibited from voting, but that, in addition erroneously listed thousands of names of law-abiding Americans who at their voting place either were forced to argue their standing in the community or, if too intimidated, or disheartened to rally to their own defense, were denied their most fundamental, inalienable right: to vote as citizens and taxpayers of this country . . .
As my colleague, Commissioner Thernstrom, said in her testimony before the Committee on Rules and Administration of the United States Senate, “Process matters. But when the process is corrupt, the conclusions themselves (current and future) are deeply suspect.”
Commissioner Thernstrom also stated at the same hearing that Dr. Allan Lichtman, the historian who conducted the statistical analysis used in the Commission’s report on Florida’s voting irregularities, had “close ties to Albert Gore, Jr.” as an example of the “perfectly obvious partisan passions that not only destroyed the credibility of the [Commission’s] report but informed the entire process that led up to the final draft.”
According to Dr. Lichtman, his alleged close ties to Albert Gore, Jr., were nothing more than a few memos written by him six years ago when Albert Gore, Jr., was serving as the Vice President of the United States.
Here’s a how-de-do . . . here’s a pretty mess.
If Dr. Lichtman’s preparation of a few memos for the then Vice President—who undoubtedly received thousands of memos during his eight-year term in office—is to be construed as having “close ties” to a candidate six years later, and is considered an example of partisan judgment, and therefore, suspect, then what are we to make of other close ties to a candidate, ties that may have affected crucial decisions months before the Florida elections took place: the ties implicit in the fact that Florida’s secretary of state (the chief election officer of the state, whose responsibilities and duties included “the obligation to obtain and maintain uniformity in the application, operation and interpretation of election laws,”) was at the same time, the co-chairwoman of George Bush’s presidential election campaign for the state of Florida.
Or, the close ties of the governor of this same state, whose emotional bond to the same presidential candidate couldn’t possibly have been any closer, or run any deeper?
In an article in the New York Times, June 4, 2001, regarding the leaking of the Commission’s report, long before most of the commissioners, including myself, had even received their copies, Commissioner Redenbaugh incorrectly attributes the leak to Chairperson Berry. Commissioner Redenbaugh is quoted in the same article as saying: “Sometimes people who believe that their cause is a correct one, lose sight of the procedural violations and believe that the means they pursue are justified by the goodness of the ends they desire.”
An apt description of the confluence of circumstances I have outlined here, that explains the disenfranchisement of one out of every eight African American voters in Florida in the November 2000 presidential election.