Profile: County of Leon (Florida)
County of Leon (Florida) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The first African-American candidate to successfully run for office in Leon County, Florida, is James Ford, a vice principal running for the Tallahassee city commission. The Tallahassee Democrat gives a qualified endorsement to Ford, saying that he is a “mature Negro” and going on to say: “We are impressed that he may be the best-qualified Negro ever to offer for public office in Tallahassee. We would expect him to serve, if elected, as a proper representative of his racial minority without antagonistic attitudes towards the majority that might result in more frustration and discord than genuine advancement.” [Tapper, 3/2001]
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
Florida NAACP official Anita Davis begins receiving phone calls from African-American voters in Leon County, which includes the heavily African-American areas in and around Tallahassee, complaining about Highway Patrol roadblocks that are interfering with their attempts to get to their polling places. Davis calls the Highway Patrol office and is told the roadblocks are just routine traffic stops, asking motorists to show their license and insurance identification. However, given Florida’s often-ugly history of racial oppression, Davis wonders about the timing and nature of the roadblocks. “It’s odd for them to be out there on Election Day,” Davis says. “It just doesn’t smell right.” Davis and fellow NAACP officials soon conclude that the Highway Patrol is attempting to interfere with black citizens’ attempts to vote. [Tapper, 3/2001]
Florida NAACP official Anita Davis, already troubled by reports of Highway Patrol roadblocks interfering with black citizens’ attempts to vote in Leon County (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000), receives a telephone call from her grandson Jamarr Lyles, a college student at Florida A&M in Tallahassee, the county seat. Lyles had joined in the NAACP’s effort to register new African-American voters, and like Davis is thrilled at the reports of huge turnouts among black Floridian voters, but tells his grandmother that he is receiving dozens of reports from his friends that they were not allowed to vote: that their names were not on the voting rolls, though they had registered to vote. [Tapper, 3/2001]
Attorneys for the Gore presidential campaign file an emergency motion in Leon County state court challenging the certification of the results of that county’s Florida presidential election. [Leip, 2008]
Leon County Judge Terry Lewis rules that Florida law gives Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), “broad discretionary authority to accept or reject late-filed returns,” referring to recounts submitted after Harris’s November 14 deadline (see 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000). After Lewis issues his ruling, Harris issues a statement hinting she is poised to certify the election when the absentee ballots are in by noon on November 18 (see November 18, 2000). An hour after the ruling, James Baker, representing the Bush campaign team, says George W. Bush and his running mate Dick Cheney “are understandably pleased” with Lewis’s finding. “The rule of law has prevailed,” he says. Gore campaign lawyer Warren Christopher warns against premature “partying” by Republicans, and says the campaign is taking Lewis’s ruling to the Florida Supreme Court. This afternoon, the Florida Supreme Court puts a hold on Lewis’s decision, citing a pending appeal by the Gore campaign (see 5:00 p.m. November 17, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]
Refusing to accept the certification of George W. Bush as the winner of the Florida presidential election (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000), Vice President Al Gore’s campaign files an election contest action challenging the election results in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Nassau Counties. Gore campaign officials believe Gore was denied a net gain of over 1,100 uncounted votes in Palm Beach and 750 in Miami-Dade (see November 7, 2000). In Nassau, Gore officials believe Bush was wrongly credited with 51 votes. “The vote totals reported in the election canvassing commission’s certification of November 26, 2000, are wrong,” Gore lawyers allege in court filings. It is the first formal contest challenge in the history of US presidential elections. The case is assigned by random computer selection to Judge N. Saunders Sauls. Gore lawyers also challenge vote totals in three Florida counties, and ask a state judge to order a manual recount of some 13,000 ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties that showed no votes for president on machine runs (so-called “undervotes”). Gore lawyers also file an emergency motion to accelerate the contest proceedings, a motion that Bush lawyers will challenge the next day. Bush campaign lawyers file an appeals court motion seeking to delay oral arguments in a pending federal case challenging Florida’s hand recounts. A Seminole County lawsuit seeking to throw out some 4,700 absentee ballots for technical reasons (see November 12, 2000, November 15-17, 2000, and November 17, 2000) is moved to a state court in Leon County, which is also hearing the Gore campaign’s certification challenges. And a lawsuit challenging the validity of Palm Beach County’s “butterfly ballot” (see 10:46 a.m. November 20 - November 22, 2000) goes to the Florida Supreme Court, which will reject the suit on December 1. [Guardian, 11/28/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]
Entity Tags: County of Seminole (Florida), County of Leon (Florida), Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Palm Beach (Florida), George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, N. Saunders Sauls, George W. Bush, County of Nassau (Florida)
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
The Gore presidential campaign asks Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Saunders Sauls to authorize an immediate recount of about 14,000 disputed “undervote” ballots. Instead of ordering an immediate recount, Sauls orders the disputed ballots, sample voting booths, and voting machines from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties brought to his courtroom in Tallahassee by Friday, December 1—a total of 1.1 million ballots, posing a tremendous logistical challenge to election boards in the two counties. On November 30, a truck carrying more than 460,000 presidential ballots from Palm Beach County leaves on its way to Tallahassee as ordered by Sauls. On December 1, two more trucks carrying over 654,000 ballots begin the long drive to Tallahassee from Miami. On December 1, the Bush campaign asks Sauls to have another 1.2 million ballots trucked in from Volusia, Broward, and Pinellas Counties; Bush campaign spokesman Scott McClellan says, “We believe there were a number of illegal votes for Gore in those counties.” Sauls does not grant this request. The trial begins on December 2, with Gore’s lawyers arguing, “There is no reason to delay counting ballots even one day.” Bush’s lawyers advance a number of arguments against expediting or even conducting the recounts, including the position that the dispute is not between Bush and Gore, but between two disparate groups of Florida electors. Bush lawyers also say that Gore’s lawyers missed a 10-day deadline to file such challenges; manually recounting only some ballots is illegal; and the recounts the Gore campaign wants are “illegal, inappropriate, and manifestly unfair.” On December 4, Sauls rules against the Gore campaign (see 4:43 p.m. December 4, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008; Guardian, 11/30/2008; Guardian, 12/1/2008]
Entity Tags: County of Pinellas (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Leon (Florida), County of Palm Beach (Florida), George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, N. Saunders Sauls, Scott McClellan, George W. Bush, County of Volusia (Florida), County of Miami-Dade (Florida)
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
Leon County, Florida, Judge N. Saunders Sauls rules against the Gore campaign in the recount issue (see November 28 - December 2, 2000), saying that manual recounts in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties are not warranted, and the Nassau County vote totals should stand. Sauls also refuses to block Florida’s certification of George W. Bush as the Florida presidential winner (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000). The London Guardian calls the ruling a “crushing blow” to Al Gore’s chances of winning the disputed election. Sauls rules that there is “no credible statistical evidence and no other competent substantial evidence” to establish a reasonable probability that Gore might win if granted a hand recount of the undervotes. “This court… concludes the evidence does not establish any illegality, dishonesty, improper influence, coercion, or fraud in the balloting and counting processes,” Sauls rules. The ruling also restores Bush’s 930-vote lead that existed before recount numbers were taken into account (see November 18, 2000). After Saul’s ruling, Gore’s lead attorney David Boies says the campaign will appeal the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, and that the campaign had always assumed the case would end up in that court. “What has happened today is that we have moved one step closer to having this finally resolved,” he tells reporters, but admits that in this instance, “They won, we lost.” Boies notes that after the incredible effort expended to bring over a million ballots to Sauls’s courtroom, the judge never looked at them. “The ballots were the best evidence of the intents of the voters,” Boies says. “This was the first court in an election contest where the court has refused to look at the ballots.” The Florida high court will hear the appeal on December 7. [Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit, In and For Leon County, Florida, 12/4/2000 ; Guardian, 12/5/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Leip, 2008]
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]
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