Chairwoman of civil rights panel criticizes Florida secretary of state
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Florida Secretary of State
Katherine Harris' description of her role in the November
presidential election was "laughable," said the chairwoman of
a panel considering whether some of Florida's voters were
"I thought Katherine Harris' description of her role was
laughable. Laughable, ha ha ha," said Mary Frances Berry, the
chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, on Friday.
Berry's comments came during the second and final day of a
hearing on the matter, after Harris and the head of Florida's
Division of Elections, Clay Roberts, had left the room.
Berry sharply criticized Harris for testifying that she was
not in charge of day-to-day operations of the elections
division, calling it the duty of elected officials to "be
able to articulate what their responsibilities are."
Harris: Someone else 'administers those issues'
Harris had earlier testified that her department was too
large for her to have intimate knowledge of all its
"With all due respect, as I have seven divisions and I have
the oversight of those seven divisions, I don't manage nor do
I have the expertise (in) everything ranging from management
of records in our archives to our multi-million inquiries in
our division of corporations every day," Harris testified,
"So, with all due respect I stand accountable and responsible
as secretary of state for these issues, but Mr. Roberts is
the one who administers those issues every day and there are
many, many things I'm only made aware of when there is a
Harris "could have taken the time to brief herself on the
responsibilities of the office," Berry told reporters, adding
that she felt "sorry" for Roberts because he has "all this
responsibility" without the title.
Harris, who served as co-chairwoman of George W. Bush's
presidential campaign in Florida, told the eight-member
commission that the media disenfranchised voters by calling
the results of the election in Florida before the polls had
Harris said the lengthy election -- which hinged on hand
counts, recounts, court suits and finally, a ruling by the
U.S. Supreme Court -- had brought attention to the state's
election problems and that steps were being taken "to make
sure this doesn't happen again."
Attorney general says many complaints received
Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth testified earlier
Friday that his office had received numerous complaints from
voters, including those who said poll workers refused to give
them clean ballots if they had made mistakes on the first
"The poll worker says, 'I'm sorry, you cannot get another
card,' whereas Florida law says you're allowed to have three
cards. That concerns me," Butterworth said. "It concerns me
enough from the standpoint that we had a problem."
Florida's 25 electoral votes proved to be pivotal in Bush's
victory over Democratic Vice President Al Gore, but the race
was so close there it took more than five weeks of recount
battles and court challenges before a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling halted any further ballot counting and left Gore with
little choice but to concede.
The commission has been given evidence alleging that:
Many predominantly black districts had a disproportionate
number of faulty voting machines.
Many minority voters were falsely told by poll workers they
were not registered to vote.
Excessive police presence at some precincts intimidated
Disabled voters were not always given assistance at the
The commission will try to determine whether the problems
existed, and if so, whether they were deliberate or
Berry said the panel hopes to be finished with the
investigation into the Florida election before September.