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Civil rights commission approves report assailing Florida vote

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights approved Friday a controversial investigative report that found the 2000 presidential race in Florida was marred by "injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency" that disenfranchised minority voters.

The vote to approve the report was 6-2, with two members -- one Republican and one independent -- sharply dissenting.

Commissioners Russell Redenbaugh and Abigail Thernstrom issued a statement saying the report was based on "faulty analysis" and relied on "vague and unsubstantiated claims" about problems with the 2000 Florida vote.

They also said that the commission "has become an agency dedicated to furthering a partisan agenda."

Republicans have been assailing the report since it was leaked to the media earlier in the week. On Friday, while in Miami announcing he will seek re-election, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush joined the chorus, noting Florida's legislature had already pushed through a comprehensive package of reforms.

"This appears to be a very partisan response to an issue that Florida now has made a major effort to resolve," he said. "We've passed the most meaningful election law reform in the country this year. It is a model for the rest of the country. I don't know what else we can do."

The commission's report found that voter disenfranchisement was "widespread" and that state and county officials, including Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris, "failed to fulfill their duties in a manner that would prevent this disenfranchisement."

The report said "countless unknown eligible voters" were wrongfully turned away from the polls or purged from voter registration lists because of procedures and practices used by election officials.

Among the practices criticized in the report was an effort to purge convicted felons and other ineligible voters from registration roles. Lists of ineligible voters, compiled by a private firm, had an error rate of at least 14 percent, and black voters had a "significantly greater chance" of appearing on the inaccurate lists than white voters, the report said.

Also, the report found that black voters were nine times more likely than white voters to have their ballots rejected during the counting process. Faulty voting systems were more likely to be used in areas with higher percentages of minority voters, but even in counties where the voting systems were the same, black voters still had a higher rejection rate than white voters, the report said.

Under the election reform package passed by the legislature and signed by Bush, all of Florida's 67 counties will have to use optical scanners or other advanced voting methods in future elections, rather than punch cards, voting machines or paper ballots.

While noting that this change should help reduce the rate of spoiled ballots, the commission's report said "these enhancements will not, standing alone, eliminate the racial disparity in ballot rejection rates." It called on the state to conduct a formal study to find out why black voters have a higher rejection rate.

The commission majority also called on the U.S. Justice Department and the Florida attorney general's office to investigate problems outlined in the report "to determine liability and to seek appropriate remedies."

CNN's Candy Crowley contributed to this report







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