As we get closer to November election, one must ask whether the debacle that enveloped Florida four years ago will be repeated. With a record of purging so-called "ex-felons" from eligible voter rolls, and new attempts to prevent the validation of names on additional purge lists, Florida appears to be on track to duplicate history. At risk, in addition to the disenfranchisement of thousand of Floridians, is the further erosion of America’s trust in the voting process. As we wait to see what unfolds, individuals from around the nation have chimed in. Here is a sampling of what people are saying.
Tampa, Florida – Tampa Tribune
June 12, 2004
"The state of Florida needs to open up the process of removing ex-felons from the voter rolls to ensure voter confidence.
"Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood is fighting a request by cable news channel CNN for a copy of the purge list, which contains as many as 47,000 names.
"After the election debacle of 2000, the last thing Florida officials need is any policy that subverts the confidence of voters in the system. If there was ever a situation where we need government to operate in the sunshine, this is it."
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 14, 2004
"Now, here we go again? The state has ordered a new purge and has assembled a list of 47,000 suspected ex-felons counties are to use in that effort… [W]hat intensifies the doubts that all is up and up is a cloak of secrecy over the list.
"Nobody ought to be stricken from any voting rolls unless officials are absolutely sure the person is ineligible. And the counties should speed up the process of restoring wrongly purged voters to the list… In a larger sense, all this fuss ought to be unnecessary. Florida ought not to disenfranchise ex-felons. This law is steeped in a sordid history. It was one of the ruses Southern states came up with to disenfranchise black people after the Civil War. That effect — not that purpose — persists."
Melbourne, Florida – Florida Today
June 8, 2004
"[T]ime is running out to restore trust in the ballot and the confidence of the public in the democratic process. Even the state doesn’t deny the voting lists are public record. But conveniently for lawmakers, only political candidates can get the lists.
"Others who want to be sure voters have not been wrongly purged as felons can look at the records, but only one record at a time. That’s ridiculous and insulting to the citizens who — in case the state of Florida has forgotten — own this government."
Portland, Oregon – The Oregonian
June 3, 2004
"We are immensely troubled… that the Nov. 2 Election Day winner could be determined by denying the vote to thousands of Floridians, predominantly African Americans, who will be purged wrongly — and in our view illegally — from the voter rolls.
"Florida is refusing to require a match of names with Social Security numbers or other methods that reliably could avoid wrongly removing voters’ civil rights. The Justice Department must move to ensure that Jeb Bush’s purge procedures are reliable. It must protect the rights of black voters in Florida.
"America’s president must be elected honestly, not by partisan, racial manipulation of the voter rolls."
St. Petersburg, Florida – St. Petersburg Times
June 5, 2004
"Ridiculous. That is about the most charitable word to describe a state law preventing the news media from having access to Florida’s voter purge list.
"In light of the 2000 presidential election in which allegations swirled that thousands of primarily minority voters were disenfranchised by a grossly inaccurate felons list, the current list should be openly available for scrutiny by any interested party, including news organizations.
"With the 2004 presidential election just five months away and criticism of the current ineligible voter list being loudly voiced by the civil rights community, there is a strong public interest in making the list available for independent verification and analysis. The courts should act quickly in finding any barrier to access unconstitutional."
Washington, D.c= – Washington Post
June 17, 2004
"The state’s incompetence in preparing its voter rolls puts a needless burden on local officials to correct errors — something there is no guarantee they will actually be able to do.
"Laws such as Florida’s — which also exist in Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska and Virginia — appear in less restrictive forms in seven other states, including Maryland, that ban only certain categories of ex-felons from voting. These laws are a vestige of a time when states sought to discourage blacks from voting, and they do, in fact, disproportionately disenfranchise African Americans. Eight percent of blacks in Maryland are deprived of the vote; in Virginia and Florida, a staggering 16 percent of the black population is disenfranchised."