No Justice in Florida

The Nation, June 17, 2002 | Go to article overview

No Justice in Florida


When Donna Brazile learned in late May that the Justice Department might sue three Florida counties over voting rights violations that disfranchised minority citizens in the 2000 presidential election, the woman who managed Al Gore's presidential campaign called her sister in Florida's Seminole County. In one of the milder examples of the harassment suffered by thousands of African-American and Latino voters in the disputed election, Brazile's sister had been forced to produce three forms of identification--instead of the one required under Florida law--before she could cast her ballot.

Informed that the Feds were riding to the rescue eighteen months after the fact, Brazile's sister asked, "What took 'em so long?" When the Justice Department finishes its tepid intervention, the question likely to be asked is, Why did they bother?

When it comes to missing signs of serious trouble, failing to respond to clear threats and then botching the cleanup of the mess, the Justice Department's response to the 2000 election crisis has been at least as inept as the much-criticized terrorist-tracking performance of the FBI and the CIA. Although it is charged with enforcing Voting Rights Act protections, Justice was nowhere to be found when its presence could have made a difference--not just for Florida but for a nation that had its presidential election settled by a 5-to-4 decision of the US Supreme Court.

Immediately after the November 7, 2000, election, minority voters who had never committed crimes complained of having had their names removed from voting rolls in a purge of "ex-felons," of being denied translation services required by law, of seriously flawed ballots, of polling places that lacked adequate resources and competent personnel, and of harassment by poll workers and law-enforcement officials [see Gregory Palast, "Florida's 'Disappeared Voters,'" February 5, 2001, and John Lantigua, "How the GOP Gamed the System in Florida," April 30, 2001]. But after newspaper analyses uncovered evidence of disproportional disfranchisement of minority voters, and even after a US Commission on Civil Rights review condemned Florida's Governor, Jeb Bush, and its Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, for running an election marked by "injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency," another year passed before Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd told the Senate Judiciary Committee in May that the civil rights division was preparing to act. …

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