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Report: Florida 'grossly derelict' in 2000 vote

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Florida officials at all levels were responsible for widespread disenfranchisement of the state's minority voters in the 2000 presidential election, according to a report drafted by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The commission says the officials were "grossly derelict" in conducting the election.

Florida's election process came under scrutiny in November 2000 after GOP candidate George W. Bush garnered just a few hundred more votes on Election Day than his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, to win the state's crucial electoral votes.

Despite losing the national popular vote to Gore, Bush won the presidency after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that capped a contentious five weeks of legal battles and recounts.

The commission's report, which will officially be released on Friday, did not find evidence of a conspiracy among Florida officials.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, both Republicans, are singled out in particular for ignoring "mounting evidence" of problems with outdated voting technology in a number of counties, and for ignoring requests for guidance and assistance from local elections officials.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights describes itself as an "independent, bipartisan agency" directed by the White House to -- among other duties -- investigate complaints that citizens have been unfairly deprived of their right to vote.

The commission's report, and its early leak to news organizations before the official release date, has angered members of the commission who were appointed by Republicans, who say they were not consulted.

Commission member Russell Redenbaugh, a GOP appointee who identifies himself as a political independent, said the evidence contained in the report fails to support the report's conclusions. Redenbaugh said commission Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry -- an independent and a Gore supporter -- leaked the report to further her personal political agenda.

The eight-member commission -- half appointed by Congress and half by the president -- is made up of three independents, four Democrats and a Republican, according to its Website.

The report also finds that the state's African-American voters were most affected by the voting problems last year. For example, the commission cites statistics showing that predominantly African-American voting precincts were more likely to use older voting systems with higher error rates than more affluent, predominantly white voting districts. As a result, the report concludes, African-American voters were 10 times more likely than white voters to have their ballots rejected.

In addition, the report alleges that an "overzealous" statewide campaign to reduce voter fraud resulted in disproportionately denying eligible African-American voters from casting ballots on Election Day. African-Americans were more likely to have been erroneously removed from voter registration rolls than Hispanic or white voters, the commission says.

The report also criticizes local election supervisors in counties hardest hit by voting problems, saying they showed a "lack of leadership" in protecting voting rights. These officials failed to adequately prepare for the election, according to the report, and "simply permitted the unequal distribution of quality voting equipment ... without the public being aware that an electoral disaster might be approaching."







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