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Profile: Tom Feeney

Tom Feeney 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 Florida Supreme Court bars 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), from rejecting all post-deadline recount tallies (see 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000) as well as certifying George W. Bush (R-TX) as the state’s presidential winner “until further order of this court” (see 10:04 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. November 17, 2000). It sets a hearing for Monday, November 20 to hear arguments on the recount dispute. The Court says flatly, “it is NOT the intent of this order to stop the counting.” [Supreme Court of Florida, 11/17/2000 pdf file; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Leip, 2008] Harris is prepared to certify Bush as the winner (see Evening, November 14, 2000), which would give him the electoral votes needed to grant him the presidency (see November 9, 2000). With that no longer a possibility, James Baker, the leader of the Bush “quick response” campaign recount team (see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000), issues a public threat: the incoming Florida speaker of the House, Republican Tom Feeney, will, if necessary, take matters into his own hands and vote in an independent slate of “electors” who would journey to Washington and vote for Bush in the US Electoral College. Because both houses of the Florida legislature are dominated by Republicans, Feeney could pass just such a bill authorizing that procedure. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Bush and his campaign officials harshly denounce the Court’s ruling. Bush accuses the Court of using “the bench to change Florida’s election laws and usurp the authority of Florida’s election officials,” and states that “writing laws is the duty of the legislature; administering laws is the duty of the executive branch.” However, the liberal news Web site Consortium News notes that Bush seems unaware of the duty of the judicial branch, “a fact taught to every American child in grade-school civics class—that it is the duty of the judiciary to interpret the laws. It is also the responsibility of the courts to resolve differences between parties under the law.” [Consortium News, 11/23/2000]

Entity Tags: Tom Feeney, Florida Supreme Court, Katherine Harris, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, James A. Baker, Consortium News, US Electoral College

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Florida Senate President John McKay and House Speaker Tom Feeney, both Republicans, announce a special session of the Florida Legislature that will convene on December 8 to consider designating its own slate of electors should the results of the Florida vote remain tied up in the courts (see 11:45 a.m. November 30, 2000). The last time a legislature chose electors was 1876. House Democratic Minority Leader Lois Frankel says that “it is just plain wrong for the Florida Legislature to elect the next president of the United States.” [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Florida State Legislature, Lois Frankel, Tom Feeney, John McKay

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

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