15 July 2004

Florida Faces Vote Chaos in 2004, Commission Hears

July 15, 2004

By Alan Elsner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Florida faces another debacle in the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 2, with the possibility that thousands of people will be unjustly denied the right to vote, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights heard on Thursday.

In a hearing on the illegal disenfranchisement of alleged felons in Florida, commissioners accused state officials of "extraordinary negligence" in drawing up a list of 48,000 people to be purged from voter rolls, most of them because they may once have committed a crime.

"They have engaged in negligence at best and something worse at worst," said Mary Frances Berry, chairperson of the commission, an independent bipartisan body whose members are appointed by the President and Congress.

She said the commission would ask the Justice Department to investigate the matter.

"It does seems to me there is a smoking gun here," said commissioner Christopher Edley. "There has been extraordinary negligence in the way the felon purging process has been conducted. ... If it was intentional, this could be a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act."


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