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The excuses are scattered amid ruins of voter list plan

By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist
Published July 15, 2004

My question is, did my friends in Gov. Jeb Bush's administration intentionally try to look so goofy over this list of 47,000 names of potential purgees from Florida's voter rolls?

Was there a sale on rubber red noses and floppy shoes down at the Clown Emporium? Was this a plot to keep us all laughing while Karl Rove sneaks into the basement and steals the voting machines?

No sir, no ma'am. They do not get to stand there week after week, all self-righteous, declaring that anybody who questions their list is a fool - they do not get to do it, and then, when the whole ridiculous thing collapses, blithely declare, "Never mind," and walk away whistling like it was ancient history.

This is what the state did:

It came up with a list of 47,000 potential ex-felons to kick off the voter rolls. The Orlando Sentinel reported Wednesday that this list cost taxpayers $2-million, most of that paid to Accenture, a consulting firm with close ties to the Florida Republican Party.

The state spent $125,000 in court, fighting to keep this fatally flawed list secret. This cloak of secrecy, the Secretary of State's office explained with a straight face, was to protect the "privacy" of the people it was proposing to kick off the voter rolls.

The governor and Secretary of State Glenda Hood would have been better stewards of the public's money if they had just put $125,000 in a big pile in the Capitol courtyard and set it on fire.

A judge in Tallahassee ordered the state's list made public - and what happened next is the most beautiful proof I have ever seen of why the Almighty intended for there to be public-records and open-government laws.

Once the secrecy was stripped away from the list, the Miami Herald ascertained that about 2,100 names of those candidates for purging from the voter rolls had already been granted clemency. (No big deal? Remember, the 2000 election in Florida was decided by 537 votes.)

The secretary of state responded that subgroup of people had incorrectly been allowed to register to vote before their clemency was granted. They would have to register all over again, or else they couldn't vote, she declared. That was that.

That was that.

That was that.

(Brief pause.)

What, you can't understand simple English? That was that!

Until it wasn't that.

At the end of business the next day, Hood's office abruptly announced via e-mail that they wouldn't have to re-register after all. (We've always been at war with Eurasia!)

But, wait. It just keeps gettin' better.

Next, our friends at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, who ought to win some kind of award, discovered another teeny, tiny flaw in the state's list. . . .

No Hispanics.

No Hispanics! Well, okay, something like 60 out of 47,000, when Hispanics make up a fifth of the state's population.

Lots of black guys on there, though.

Brain surgery skills are not required to know that black voters tend to vote Democrat, whereas Hispanic voters, especially in South Florida, tend to vote Republican.

(Also kept off the state's list: Guys named "Throckmorton," anybody convicted of tax evasion, securities fraud or embezzlement or any offense involving country-club membership.)

(Just kidding about all that.)

(I think.)

Did they deliberately try to purge blacks and not Hispanics? Nah. It was, as they said, a "database glitch." The state's criminal database doesn't have a category for "Hispanic," but voting records do. So when they tried to match up the two lists, they didn't match.

To recap here: 2-million smackeroonies to match databases that, uh, didn't match.

Already, there is an air of vague irritation that anybody is still complaining about this. "We accept responsibility and we're pulling it back," the governor declared flatly, as if that were that.

I wonder if "accepting responsibility" means he's gonna get our $2-million back, or fire somebody?

It is bad government, regardless of party.

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