Florida Counties Face Justice Suits over Voting Rights; Elections Officials' Violations cited.(NATION)

Article excerpt


The Justice Department yesterday said it planned to file lawsuits against counties in Florida, accusing officials who oversaw the hotly contested 2000 presidential election of voting-rights violations.

Assistant Attorney General Ralph F. Boyd Jr., who heads the department's civil rights division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that voting-rights lawsuits also would be filed against officials in cities in Missouri and Tennessee.

None of the counties or cities was identified.

The lawsuits will name election officials on charges ranging from the disparate treatment of minority voters and the improper purging of voter rolls to "motor voter" registration violations and failure to provide access to disabled voters, Mr. Boyd said.

Additional charges, he said, would include failure to offer non-English-speaking voters bilingual assistance at the polls.

Mr. Boyd's comments came during an oversight hearing by the committee of the department's civil rights division.

Officials in Florida came under fire during the 2000 presidential election when it took weeks, several recounts, hundreds of hanging chads and, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court to declare that Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, had defeated his Democratic challenger, Vice President Al Gore.

Several civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, charged at the time that Florida blacks had been denied access to polling places as part of a systematic plan to disenfranchise black voters.

Mr. Jackson, Mr. Mfume and others said a pattern of voter suppression by Florida officials and law enforcement authorities had prohibited blacks from entering polling precincts throughout the state, allowing Mr. Bush to steal the election.

Donna Brazile, Mr. Gore's campaign manager, said black voters faced "dogs and guns" in trying to get to the polls, and Lyndon LaRouche, a perennial presidential candidate, called for a congressional investigation. …