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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Florida election mess is a national scandal

While national attention focused on hanging chad and ballot confusion, it now becomes clear that there were far more serious problems in Florida during its history-making 2000 election.

A report due out soon from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights makes the charge that there was widespread disenfranchisement of minority voters.

The mechanical problems faced by Florida voters drew most attention as officials there tried to sort out who won the virtual tie between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George Bush.

So we learned all about butterfly ballots and pregnant chad and the legal intricacies of recounts.

What received less attention then was that for thousands upon thousands of voters, the technicalities didn't matter. They simply were not able to vote or their ballots were rejected. For instance, African Americans were 10 times as likely as whites to have their ballots rejected.

The commission reportedly puts the bulk of the blame on Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris, the secretary of state who had overall responsibility for elections.

This may not be entirely fair, since elections in Florida are administered on a county-by-county basis.

Still, that doesn't excuse a system that systematically and broadly penalized minority voters throughout the state. Now, this is most likely not the result of deliberate discrimination against minority voters. But that is small comfort.

What is apparent is a pattern of indifference or neglect that created a fundamentally unfair voting system.

Even Gov. Bush as much as acknowledged this. In the wake of the election, he quickly pushed through a sweeping election reform bill.

That's fine, but it is too little and too late. Those votes lost last fall can never be reclaimed.

While it is crucial the system in Florida be repaired, the Civil Rights Commission should not stop there. It should review voting systems and practices in other states to ensure that this most precious of democratic rights is not being denied to any citizen, anywhere.