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Civil rights groups file suit over alleged Florida voter disenfranchisement

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Seeking to remedy what they called the "undemocratic politics used to disenfranchise black voters," civil rights groups said Wednesday that they would file suit against the state of Florida over voting irregularities in the November 7 election.

The lawsuit, NAACP v. Harris, "stems from two months of investigations that began on November 7, 2000, when voters started registering complaints with the NAACP and other organizations," said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

Those complaints by African-American voters include being denied the right to vote, being forced to wait in long lines, and not receiving assistance from election workers.

Ted Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund  

Additionally, the group contends that Florida election officials intentionally purged thousands of minority voters from the rolls and directed the antiquated "Votomatic" voting machines to minority precincts, where many voters said they had difficulties with the punchcards.

"This is not a passive action and it disproportionately affects black voters," said Ted Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

"They knew they were going to have massive African American turnout. They knew there were ways they could suppress that turnout," Arnwine said of Florida election officials. African Americans, she said, were upset with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush over his attempt to repeal the state's affirmative action policies, and had vowed to retaliate by voting for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in November.

Although led by the NAACP, also involved are the America Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the People for the American Way and some 19,000 African American Florida voters.

The suit seeks compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Voting Registration Act of 1993 and cites the equal protection clause in the Constitution.

Remedies sought by the group include: adopting training standards for election workers; restoring voters wrongfully purged from voting rolls; developing and implementing training for all personnel involved in elections; and providing appropriate notice to vote.

People for the American Way's Elliot Minceberg  

"We're here to ask the court to order the repairs to the system that has broken down," said Elliot Minceberg of the People for the American Way. To ensure that "every Florida vote is handled with care no matter where it is cast or who has cast it."

The group said that it hoped the Justice Department would continue to pursue it's own civil rights investigation in election in Florida in a "nonpartisan, objective fashion" but that the lawsuit "keeps this issue in our hands."

"We're not going to wait on them," Shaw said.

The legal action comes two days after the state of Florida convened a special panel to investigate problems in the November 7 election that resulted in the protracted presidential election which was ultimately resolved by the Supreme Court. The panel is expected to recommend statewide reforms by March of this year -- not soon enough for the coalition.

"The problems with these voting machines have been known for decades and nothing has been done to change it," said Tom Henderson of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. "It is, in the end, a resort to the courts to ensure that these changes will be made and voters will no longer be disenfranchised."




Wednesday, January 10, 2001


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