GOP calls 925 felons illegal voters
The Republican Party of Florida drew up its own list of felons it says are ineligible to vote. The party could use the information to contest election results if they are close again in Florida.
BY GARY FINEOUT Miami Herald 29 October 2004
TALLAHASSEE - Foreshadowing a possible challenge of voters on Election Day or in court soon after, Florida's Republican Party said Thursday that it believes nearly 1,000 illegal voters plan to cast ballots this year.
But the party's announcement may face its own challenges. The GOP found the allegedly illegal voters by using the same flawed list of felons that had been drawn up by the state elections division, but was scrapped after news organizations exposed its inaccuracies.
The party has built a list of 14,489 registered voters it says should not be allowed to vote because they are felons whose civil rights have not been restored. Of those, Republican officials say 925 thus far have either voted early or requested an absentee ballot.
BREAKING THE LAW
''This is evidence of the law being broken,'' said Mindy Tucker Fletcher, senior advisor to Florida's Republican Party. ``We knew that felons were on the rolls, we knew that supervisors had not done their due diligence in cleaning up the rolls, we knew the potential existed for fraud. So we examined whether the potential for fraud was there.''
Fletcher said the party has turned over the 925 names to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It's a third-degree felony for an ineligible person to vote in Florida.
Of the 925 voters, Fletcher said 580 were Democrats, 214 were Republicans, 127 were independents and four were members of minor parties.
What the party plans to do with the names after that is still ''in the process of being decided,'' Fletcher said.
The party could challenge any absentee ballots cast before Election Day, since counties start counting those ballots today.
But the party could also use the list of felons for a broader fight, to contest election results in court after Tuesday.
NO STONE UNTURNED
The decision to scrutinize the voting shows once again how close, and how contested, this year's presidential election is expected to be in a state that President Bush won by 537 votes in 2000. Since then, more than 1 ½ million new voters have been added to the rolls.
The use of this new felons list, however, brought immediate protest from Democrats and civil rights groups who had fought against its use earlier this year by the state elections division.
They suggested Republicans want to use it to ''intimidate'' black Democrats from heading to the polls, noting that the initial felons list inaccurately listed many black Democrats who had actually been granted the right to vote.
''This is one more step to disenfranchise voters by the Republican Party of Florida,'' said Scott Maddox, chairman of Florida's Democratic Party.
Maddox said that if the list was flawed enough to be ped by Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Glenda Hood earlier this year, it shouldn't be used now. ''Asking us to trust the Republican Party to enforce election law is like asking a chicken to trust Colonel Sanders,'' he said.
Florida is one of a handful of states that bars former prisoners from voting unless they have their civil rights restored. In 1999 and 2000, then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris relied on an out-of-state company to draw up a list of felons to weed out of voting rolls, but that list was considered flawed and some counties refused to use it.
In 2001, the Republican-controlled Legislature set aside up to $2 million to develop a new central voter database that would pool information from the FDLE, the state clemency office, the Bureau of Vital Statistics and the counties, and allow each county to remove felons, deceased people and duplicate registrations from rolls.
But efforts by the elections division to draw up a list of more than 48,000 felons came under fire when it was first given to counties in May. The Herald discovered more than 2,000 voters whose civil rights had been restored, many of them Democrats, while The Sarasota Herald-Tribune discovered that Hispanics, who often vote Republican, had largely been left off the list.
Hood and Bush decided to scrap the list in July, leaving counties to do what they have always done: remove the names of felons that they receive from court clerks.
In August, elections division Director Dawn Roberts went further, telling counties that may have used the list before it had been scrapped to visually inspect court records and clemency records before purging the name of anyone from the voting rolls.
Fletcher said that the Republican Party took the initial state list of nearly 48,000 voters and then narrowed it further by obtaining from the Florida Parole Commission the names of felons whose rights had been restored. The party then compared it to the names of voters who cast ballots in 2000, 2002 or registered to vote since 2002.
''Voters not eligible to vote should not be allowed to vote,'' said Al Cárdenas, co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign in Florida. ``The Republican Party will do what it takes, within the legal boundaries, to see such voting does not take place.''
At least one supervisor of elections, Leon County's Ion Sancho, said his office would not honor any challenges based on the GOP list. Sancho maintains that the law that allows someone to challenge the right to vote must be based on personal knowledge and evidence.
''How do I know the database is flawed or is it not?'' asked Sancho, who used to be a Democrat but now has no party affiliation.
Mark Herron, a lawyer who works on behalf of Democrats and the campaign of John Kerry, said Sancho's answer points to a potential Election Day nightmare of each county responding differently to challenges based on this new felons list.