How the "felon" voter-purge was itself felonious
   by Greg Palast

In November the U.S. media, lost in patriotic reverie, dressed up the
Florida recount as a victory for President Bush. But however one reads
the ballots, Bush's win would certainly have been jeopardized had not
some Floridians been barred from casting ballots at all. Between May
1999 and Election Day 2000, two Florida secretaries of state - Sandra
Mortham and Katherine Harris, both protégées of Governor Jeb Bush-
ordered 57,700 "ex-felons," who are prohibited from voting by state law,
to be removed from voter rolls. (In the thirty-five states where former
felons can vote, roughly 90 percent vote Democratic.) A portion of the
list, which was compiled for Florida by DBT Online, can be seen for the
first time here; DBT, a company now owned by ChoicePoint of Atlanta, was
paid $4.3 million for its work, replacing a firm that charged $5,700 per
year for the same service. If the hope was that DBT would enable Florida
to exclude more voters, then the state appears to have spent its money wisely.

Two of these "scrub lists," as officials called them, were distributed
to counties in the months before the election with orders to remove the
voters named. Together the lists comprised nearly 1 percent of Florida's
electorate and nearly 3 percent of its African-American voters. Most of
the voters (such as "David Butler," (1); a name that appears 77 times in
Florida phone books) were selected because their name, gender, birthdate
and race matched - or nearly matched - one of the tens of millions of
ex-felons in the United States. Neither DBT nor the state conducted any
further research to verify the matches. DBT, which frequently is hired
by the F.B.I. to conduct manhunts, originally proposed using address
histories and financial records to confirm the names, but the state declined
the cross-checks. In Harris's elections office files, next to DBT's sophisticated
verification plan, there is a hand-written note: "DON'T NEED."

Thomas Alvin Cooper (2) , twenty-eight, was flagged because of a crime
for which he will be convicted in the year 2007. According to Florida's
elections division, this intrepid time-traveler will cover his tracks by
moving to Ohio, adding a middle name, and changing his race. Harper's
found 325 names on the list with conviction dates in the future, a fact
that did not escape Department of Elections workers, who, in June 2000
emails headed, "Future Conviction Dates," termed the discovery, "bad
news." Rather than release this whacky data to skeptical counties, Janet
Mudrow, state liaison to DBT, suggested that "blanks would be preferable
in these cases." (Harper's counted 4,917 blank conviction dates.) The
one county that checked each of the 694 names on its local list could
verify only 34 as actual felony convicts. Some counties defied Harris'
directives; Madison County's elections supervisor Linda Howell refused
the purge list after she found her own name on it.

Rev. Willie Dixon (3) , seventy, was guilty of a crime in his youth; but
one phone call would have told the state that it had already pardoned
Dixon and restored his right to vote. On behalf of Dixon and other
excluded voters, the NAACP in January 2001 sued Florida and Harris,
after finding that African-Americans - - who account for 13 percent of
Florida's electorate and 46 percent of U.S. felony convictions - - were
four times as likely as whites to be incorrectly singled out under the
state's methodology. After the election, Harris and her elections chief
Clay Roberts, testified under oath that verifying the lists was solely
the work of county supervisors. But the Florida-DBT contract (marked
"Secret" and "Confidential") holds DBT responsible for "manual verification
using telephone calls." in fact, with the state's blessing, DBT did not call a
single felon. When I asked Roberts about the contract during an interview
for BBC television, Roberts ripped of his microphone, ran into his office,
locked the door, and called in state troopers to remove us.

Johnny Jackson Jr. (4) , thirty-two, has never been to Texas, and his
mother swears he never had the middle name "Fitzgerald." Neither is
there evidence that John Fitzgerald Jackson, felon of Texas, has ever
left the Lone Star State. But even if they were the same man, removing
him from Florida's voter rolls is an unconstitutional act. Texas is
among the thirty five states where ex-felons are permitted to vote, and
the "full faith and credit" clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids
states to revoke any civil rights that a citizen has been granted by
another state; in fact, the Florida Supreme Court had twice ordered the
state not to do so, just nine months before the voter purge.
Nevertheless, at least 2,873 voters were wrongly removed, a purge
authorized by a September 18, 2000 letter to counties from Governor
Bush's clemency office. On February 23, 2001, days after the U.S.
Commission of Civil Rights began investigating the matters, Bush's
office issued a new letter allowing these persons to vote; no copies of
the earlier letter could be found in the clemency office or on its computers.

Wallace McDonald (5), sixty-four, lost his right to vote in 2000, though
his sole run-in with the law was a misdemeanor in 1959. (He fell asleep
on a bus-stop bench.) Of the "matches' on these lists, the civil-rights
commission estimated that at least 14 percent - or 8,000 voters, nearly
15 times Bush's official margin of victory - were false. DBT claims it
warned officials "a significant number of people who were not a felon
would be included on the list"; but the state, the company now says,
"wanted there to be more names than were actually verified." Last May,
Florida's legislature barred Harris from using outside firms to build
the purge list and ordered her to seek guidance from county elections
officials. In defiance, Harris has rebuffed the counties and hired
another firm, just in time for Jeb Bush's reelection fight this fall.

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