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Profile: County of Duval (Florida)

County of Duval (Florida) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Florida, already using controversial and error-ridden “purge lists” to remove tens of thousands of minority voters from the voting rolls (see 1998 and After), uses voting machines and voting procedures to disenfranchise eligible voters. The Florida elections system is grossly underfunded, resulting in the use of obsolete and error-prone machines (disproportionately used in counties with large minority populations), and elections officials lacking fundamental training and even information about their jobs. During most of 2000, county supervisors warn Tallahassee that Florida could expect an unprecedented number of voters on November 7, especially among the black voting community. But Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) and Division of Elections chief Clay Roberts, by their own subsequent testimony, fail to address the problem. Roberts tells Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho, “It’s not that bad.” Thusly on November 7, 2000, many polling places experience massive difficulties. An investigation by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) turns up thousands of voters who are turned away for a number of reasons, including but not limited to being on the purge lists. Some voters who registered are not listed on the voting rolls—many of whom were registered through NAACP efforts to register voters via the “motor voter” procedures (see May 20, 1993). County supervisors calling Tallahassee with questions and problems routinely find themselves unable to get through. Many precincts lack access to central voter rolls to verify questionable registrations. Some voters who are in line to vote at the 7:00 p.m. closing time are told to leave, even though the law mandates that any voter standing in line to vote can vote even if closing time occurs. Florida law also allows voters whose status is questionable to complete affidavit votes that will be counted later after their eligibility is confirmed, but many election workers know nothing of these procedures, and thusly many voters who are eligible to vote via affidavit are not given that opportunity. Many disabled voters find no procedures in place to allow them access to voting machines. Many precincts lack procedures to assist Spanish-speaking voters, including failing to provide bilingual ballots or bilingual poll workers. (The Voting Rights Act of 1965—see August 6, 1965—mandates that such provisions be made at every polling place without exception.) The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund later concludes that several thousand Hispanic voters are disenfranchised because of these failures. Black voters in Leon County complain that the Florida Highway Patrol set up a roadblock that denied them access to their polling place (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000); Highway Patrol authorities later admit the existence of the roadblock, but say that it was a routine vehicle inspection checkpoint.
Punch Card Voting - Florida generally uses two voting systems—the more sophisticated computer “optiscan” system, which features ballots where choices are made by “bubbling in” an oval with a pencil and then feeding into a scanner, and the obsolete “punch card” system, which uses “punch cards” where choices are made by a voter “punching” a hole in a card with a stylus and then feeding the card into a scanner. Counties with large African-American populations are disproportionate in having to use the obsolete punch card machines. In four of these counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Duval—over 100,000 votes are discarded due to problems with punching the holes correctly (see November 9, 2000). This total is more than half the discards in the entire state. Of the 19 precincts in the state with the highest rate of discard, 18 are majority-black. Seventy percent of black Floridian voters are forced to use the punch card machines, a percentage far higher than that of other ethnic groups. The NAACP later sues to force Florida to discard punch card machines entirely. The Florida government’s response to the punch-card disenfranchisement can perhaps be best summed up by a statement made by Republican House Speaker Tom Feeney, who responds to a question about the infamous “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County (see November 9, 2000) by saying: “Voter confusion is not a reason for whining or crying or having a revote. It may be a reason to require literacy tests.” Literacy tests, a legacy of the Jim Crow era of massive voter discrimination, are unconstitutional (see 1896 and June 8, 1959). [Tapper, 3/2001; Nation, 4/24/2001]
Subsequent Investigation - A later investigation by the progressive news magazine The Nation will document widespread voter disenfranchisement efforts in Florida (see April 24, 2001).

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), County of Madison (Florida), County of Leon (Florida), County of Duval (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Clay Roberts, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Florida Highway Patrol, Ion Sancho, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Tom Feeney, Linda Howell, Katherine Harris, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

The Bush campaign seeks stays in the Florida Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court regarding the acceptance of 43,852 “undervote” recounts in Florida counties. Most importantly, the Bush campaign also asks the US Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which would declare its candidate the winner of the Florida presidential election. Both the Florida Supreme Court and Eleventh Appeals Court refuse to issue the stay. Most observers believe that if the recounts are completed and their vote totals tabulated, Democrat Al Gore will win enough votes to win Florida, and thusly become president. Currently Republican George W. Bush has a mere 193-vote lead (see December 7-8, 2000), and recount totals from Miami-Dade County alone are expected to give Gore more than this amount. One example of the problematic situation in Florida is with Duval County, which includes the city of Jacksonville, where claims of massive African-American disenfranchsement and discrimination (see November 7, 2000) have already tainted the balloting. Duval has 4,967 undervotes, but they are mixed in with 291,000 others, all stored in boxes in a vault. The all-Republican electoral board, as seen on national television, has begun examining ballots, but as The Guardian observes, “with such painstaking reluctance to proceed, it amounted to an effective filibuster.” Democratic spokeswoman Jenny Backus tells reporters, “What we’ve heard is that they’re going to try to slow this down by every means they can.” However, the US Supreme Court issues the requested stay and the undervote tabulation stops. The Court does not issue the requested writ of certiorari. [Supreme Court of the United States, 12/8/2000 pdf file; Supreme Court of the United States, 12/9/2000 pdf file; Guardian, 12/10/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008] The divide among the nine US Supreme Court justices is plain. The five conservative justices, led by Antonin Scalia, have since December 4 been circulating memos among themselves and their clerks, bouncing various arguments off one another in what the liberal justices’ clerks feel is an attempt to audition and solidify their arguments in favor of overturning the Florida high court’s decision and giving the presidency to Bush. The four liberal justices, led by John Paul Stevens, have long felt that the Court had no business being involved in the issue, that it was instead up to the Florida judiciary and legislature to settle the matter. Stevens, writing the anticipated dissent for the minority, has to ask the majority for more time to complete his dissent, so eager are they to issue their ruling. When Scalia sees in Stevens’s dissent the line that says, “counting every legally cast vote cannot constitute irreparable harm”—a direct rebuke to Scalia’s earlier argument that the Florida recounts would do “irreparable harm” to a Bush presidency—Scalia inadvertently delays the proceedings to write his own angry rejoinder, which reads in part, “Count first, and rule upon legality afterwards, is not a recipe for producing election results that have the public acceptance democratic stability requires.” Scalia’s nakedly partisan stance discomfits even some of the other conservative justices’ clerks and angers the liberal clerks. “The Court had worked hard to claim a moral high ground, but at that moment he pissed it away,” one later recalls. “And there was a certain amount of glee. He’d made our case for us to the public about how crassly partisan the whole thing was.” After Scalia finishes his rejoinder, the Court issues its stay, stopping all further recounts. Gore himself, unaware of the arguments and partisanship dividing the Court, still holds out hope that one of the conservatives—O’Connor or Anthony Kennedy, perhaps (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000 and (November 29, 2000))—can be reached. “Please be sure that no one trashes the Court,” he admonishes his staffers. Gore decides to have campaign lawyer David Boies instead of Laurence Tribe argue the campaign’s case in the upcoming arguments, perhaps hoping that Boies, more moderate than the outspokenly liberal Tribe, might win some support from either Kennedy or O’Connor. Boies has also been representing Gore in Florida, and can presumably reassure the justices of the fundamental fairness of what is happening there. The liberal clerks have no such illusions. What hopes they have now are pinned on the press. One has heard a rumor that the Wall Street Journal is preparing to publish a story reporting that O’Connor had been overheard at a dinner party expressing her opposition to a Gore presidency; that report, the clerks hope, might force O’Connor to recuse herself from the decision and tie the court at 4-4. However, O’Connor has no such intention. Gore’s lawyers, aware of O’Connor’s statements, consider asking her to recuse herself, but decide instead to restrain themselves in hopes that she will, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “now lean toward them to prove her fairness.” [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Wall Street Journal, County of Duval (Florida), Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, US Supreme Court, The Guardian, John Paul Stevens, Laurence Tribe, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Sandra Day O’Connor, Florida Supreme Court, Jenny Backus, Antonin Scalia, David Boies

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The state of Florida settles a voter discrimination suit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the wake of allegations of massive and widespread discrimination during the November 2000 elections (see November 7, 2000 and April 24, 2001). The class-action suit charged Database Technologies (DBT), a private firm hired by the Florida government, and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris with deliberately attempting to disenfranchise black voters. Florida agrees to provisions that nominally settle the problem, but by 2004 will have implemented virtually none of the corrective procedures mandated by the settlement. Miami-Dade, Broward, Leon, Volusia, and Duval Counties settled earlier rather than face trial. [Center for American Progress, 12/9/2010]

Entity Tags: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, County of Broward (Florida), County of Duval (Florida), Katherine Harris, County of Leon (Florida), Database Technologies, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Volusia (Florida)

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

Bar graph based on Duval County caging list.Bar graph based on Duval County caging list. [Source: RangeVoting (.org)]Investigative reporter Greg Palast claims on a BBC Newsnight broadcast that the Bush presidential re-election campaign has a plan to disrupt voting in Florida during the November 2004 presidential elections. The BBC says it has two emails prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director in Washington that contain a 15-page “caging list” of voters, predominantly African-American and likely Democratic voters, residing in and around Jacksonville, Florida. Voting rights expert Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will later explain “caging” to Palast: “Caging is an illegal way of getting rid of black votes. You get a list of all the black voters. Then you send a letter to their homes. And if the person doesn’t sign it at the homes, the letter then is returned to the Republican National Committee. They then direct the state attorney general, who is friendly to them, who’s Republican, to remove that voter from the list on the alleged basis that that voter does not live in the address that they designated as their address on the voting application form.” A Tallahassee elections supervisor, Ion Sancho, tells a BBC reporter, “The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day.” He says that under Florida law, operatives from political parties can station themselves inside polling stations and stop voters from obtaining a ballot; such “caged” voters would then have to complete a “provisional” ballot that may well not be counted. Mass challenges of this nature have never occurred in Florida, Sancho says. No challenges have been issued against voters “in the 16 years I’ve been supervisor of elections.” He continues, “Quite frankly, this process can be used to slow down the voting process and cause chaos on election day; and discourage voters from voting.” Sancho says it is “intimidation,” and it may well be illegal. Civil rights attorney Ralph Neas says US federal law bars challenges to voters, even if there is a basis for the challenge, if race is a factor in targeting voters. The “caging list” of Jacksonville-area voters contains a disproportionately large number of black voters. Republican spokespersons deny that the list is illegal, and say it merely records returned mail from either fundraising solicitations or returned letters sent to newly registered voters to verify their addresses for purposes of mailing campaign literature. Republican state campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker Fletcher says the list was not compiled “in order to create” a challenge list, but refuses to say it would not be used in that manner. Republican poll watchers will, she says, challenge voters “[w]here it’s stated in the law.” No one in the Florida Republican Party or the Bush campaign will explain why top officials in the Bush campaign have received the caging list. Palast’s colleagues have captured on film a private detective filming every “early voter” in a Jacksonville precinct from behind a vehicle with blacked-out windows; the detective denies knowing who paid for his services. Representative Corinne Brown (D-FL) says the surveillance is part of a Republican-orchestrated campaign to intimidate black voters. [Greg Palast, 10/26/2004; Democracy Now!, 5/14/2007] Palast later writes that many of the black voters affected by the caging list are veterans.
Methodology - He will write: “Here’s how the scheme worked: The RNC mailed these voters letters in envelopes marked, ‘Do not forward,’ to be returned to the sender. These letters were mailed to servicemen and women, some stationed overseas, to their US home addresses. The letters then returned to the Bush-Cheney campaign as ‘undeliverable.’ The lists of soldiers with ‘undeliverable’ letters were transmitted from state headquarters, in this case Florida, to the RNC in Washington. The party could then challenge the voters’ registration and thereby prevent their absentee ballots being counted. One target list was comprised exclusively of voters registered at the Jacksonville, Florida, Naval Air Station. Jacksonville is the third largest naval installation in the US, best known as home of the Blue Angels fighting squadron.” Over one million provisional ballots cast in the 2004 race were never counted. “The extraordinary rise in the number of rejected ballots was the result of the widespread multi-state voter challenge campaign by the Republican Party,” he will write. “The operation, of which the purge of black soldiers was a small part, was the first mass challenge to voting America had seen in two decades.” Palast will say that the BBC had more than the two emails it used for its Newsnight report. He will also identify the sender as Timothy Griffin, the RNC’s national research director, and the recipients as Florida campaign chairman Brett Doster and other Republican leaders. “Attached were spreadsheets marked, ‘Caging.xls.’ Each of these contained several hundred to a few thousand voters and their addresses. A check of the demographics of the addresses on the ‘caging lists,’ as the GOP leaders called them indicated that most were in African-American majority zip codes.” Palast will report that one Republican official, Joseph Agostini, explained that the list may have been of potential Bush campaign donors, a claim that is undermined by the list’s inclusion of a number of residents of a local homeless shelter. Fletcher will later claim that the list contains voters “we mailed to, where the letter came back—bad addresses,” but will not say why the list includes soldiers serving overseas whose addresses would obviously not be correct. Fletcher will insist that it “is not a challenge list.… That’s not what it’s set up to be.” [Greg Palast, 6/16/2006; In These Times, 4/16/2007] US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico will later say of the practice: “That’s a terrible practice. If it’s not illegal, it should be. I hope Congress fixes that, that problem. It’s when you send voter information to a group of people that you have reason to believe are no longer there, such as military personnel who are overseas, such as students at historically black colleges. And then, when it comes back as undeliverable, the party uses that information to remove that person from the voter rolls, claiming that they’re no longer there.… It’s a reprehensible practice. I had never heard of the phrase until after I left office.” [Democracy Now!, 6/4/2008]
Griffin Sent Memos to Wrong Email Address - Palast later reveals his source for the caging list spreadsheet to be an error made by Griffin. In August 2004, he sent a series of confidential memos to a number of Republican Party officials via emails. Griffin mistakenly sent the emails to addresses at georgewbush.org and not georgewbush.com, as he should have. The georgewbush.org address is owned by satirist John Wooden, who sent them to Palast at BBC Newsnight. Palast will write: “Griffin’s dozens of emails contained what he called ‘caging lists’—simple Excel spreadsheets with the names and addresses of voters. Sounds innocent enough. But once the addresses were plotted on maps—70,000 names in Florida alone—it became clear that virtually every name was in a minority-majority voting precinct. And most of the lists were made up of itinerant, vulnerable voters: students, the homeless, and, notably, soldiers sent overseas.” [In These Times, 4/16/2007]
GOP: Palast, Sancho Wrong, Biased - Fletcher responds to the BBC story with an email to Newsnight editor Peter Barron claiming that Palast is ignorant of the laws and practices surrounding elections, and calls Sancho “an opinionated Democrat” who does not supervise the area in question. Such “caging lists” are commonly used, she says, and are entirely legal. Palast mischaracterized the nature and use of caging lists, she says. Moreover, the list is composed of returned mailings sent by the Republican National Committee to new registrants in Duval County (which includes Jacksonville) encouraging recipients to vote Republican. “The Duval County list was created to collect the returned mail information from the Republican National Committee mailing and was intended and has been used for no purpose other than that,” she says. Palast erred in “insinuat[ing]” that the list would be used for challenging voters, “and frankly illustrates his willingness to twist information to suit his and others’ political agenda. Reporting of these types of baseless allegations by the news media comes directly from the Democrats’ election playbook.” She then accuses the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) of “massive fraud efforts” on behalf of “the Kerry campaign and the Democrats.” Many registered voters in Duval County “do not have valid addresses,” she says, implying that such voters may be subject to challenges. She concludes, “In a year when reporters are under heavy scrutiny for showing political leanings toward the Democratic Party, I would think that your new[s] organization would take greater care to understand the facts and use sources that will yield objective information, rather than carry one party’s political agenda.” [BBC, 6/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Florida Republican Party, Brett Doster, Bush-Cheney re-election campaign 2004, Corrine Brown, David C. Iglesias, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Greg Palast, Ralph G. Neas, John Wooden, J. Timothy Griffin, Ion Sancho, Republican National Committee, Joseph Agostini, County of Duval (Florida), Peter Barron, Mindy Tucker Fletcher

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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