CNN asks Florida court for ineligible voters list
County boards reviewing list for accuracy
From Robert Yoon
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As Florida county election boards review a list of thousands of potentially ineligible voters -- including some who may be felons -- CNN is suing the state, claiming the public and media should also be able to review the list.
The move comes four years after the state's voter rolls were at the center of one of the closest elections in U.S. history.
The state Monday denied a CNN request for a copy of the list of up to 48,000 people. These people, according to the state, could be ineligible to vote because they are felons or have multiple registrations -- or have died since the last election.
The county election boards have been asked to review the list to make sure the people are correctly identified as individuals who should be denied the right to vote.
The state said that only government officials, candidates for office, and political parties can be provided copies of such records under state law.
CNN as well as members of the general public were invited to view the documents in the Florida Division of Elections headquarters in Tallahassee, on the condition that there be no photocopying or note-taking.
"Unless people look at the list and see their names and know that it's wrong, then they could end up in a situation where they don't have the right to vote," said Tampa attorney Gregg D. Thomas of the law firm Holland & Knight, who is representing CNN in the matter. "It is incredible that information this important to a constitutional right, the right to vote, is not freely and openly disseminated."
CNN filed suit Friday in a state circuit court in Tallahassee, Florida.
In the 2000 election, state officials purged voter rolls of the names of more than 173,000 people identified as felons or otherwise ineligible to vote, but civil rights activists as well as some Florida county elections supervisors have charged that those lists contained numerous errors, and that thousands of eligible voters were prevented from casting ballots in the election.
After the Supreme Court closed the door to recounts, President Bush edged then-Vice President Al Gore in Florida by a margin of 537 votes, enough to win the state and, with it, the White House.
"Florida's 2000 felon purge program resulted in over 50,000 legal voters being disenfranchised," said Leon County elections supervisor Ion Sancho in a written statement. "When asked for assurances that the [2004 felon list] was 90 percent accurate -- the minimum level local supervisors of elections requested for such a list -- we were told that it was better than the 2000 list, with no data to support its accuracy."
A Florida state official acknowledged to CNN that the 2000 list contained errors -- in particular that it included felons convicted in other states, who are eligible to vote in Florida.
The 2004 list, according to the official, has been corrected to include only felons convicted in-state.
County elections officials were provided with the new list, as well as a list of voters who were possibly wrongfully denied the right to vote in 2000, and were asked to review both lists and submit any corrections to the state.
The official said that "most" of Florida's 67 counties had responded, but could not provide a specific figure.
County elections officials are required to contact Floridians who appear on the list of those identified as felons by mail and give them an opportunity to challenge state records.
If the person cannot be reached by mail, the county must follow up with an announcement in local media outlets. If there is no response in 30 days, the person will be removed from the voting rolls.