The NAACP could file lawsuits alleging voting irregularities against the state of Florida and individual counties there as early as next week, President Kweisi Mfume said yesterday.
Mfume also admonished the U.S. Justice Department for not investigating allegations of voting abnormalities that deprived African-Americans of their right to vote in Florida on Nov. 7.
"Why has the Justice Department been so silent?" Mfume asked at a morning news conference at NAACP headquarters. "Why is the Justice Department apparently reluctant to carry out their duties? Why has the Justice Department turned a deaf ear?"
A Justice Department spokesman did not return telephone calls.
NAACP officials conducted five hours of hearings in Florida Nov. 11 on the alleged irregularities.
At the hearings, the Rev. Clyde W. Jutson Sr., pastor of Good News Little River Baptist Church in Miami, testified that a ballot box - which could have contained as many as 1,400 ballots - was not picked up by elections officials. Jutson's church is in a predominantly black area.
Andree Berkowitz of West Palm Beach testified that the ballot was confusing, "not only for senior citizens but for anybody."
Berkowitz said that, despite published reports, Palm Beach residents didn't get a chance to approve the ballot before the election. He also said that in Riviera Beach, a largely African-American community in Palm Beach County, many registered voters weren't allowed to cast ballots.
Mfume said NAACP lawsuits will be based on evidence collected during the hearings. Also, more hearings will be held in California, South Carolina, Missouri and possibly Maryland, he said, without specifying how many complaints came from Maryland.
Mfume said scores of people from Florida and the other states called to complain about problems ranging from closed polling places to not being allowed to vote. "By noon there were almost 80 different complaints," he said. "By 2 o'clock that afternoon it'd gotten so bad that we had to deploy 200 additional people in Florida."
The lawsuits the NAACP is preparing will allege that polling sites were removed without timely notice or any notice, that some polls closed early, that some had no bilingual ballots and that some Haitian voters in Florida were denied assistance from translators, Mfume said.
Additionally, the lawsuits will allege that a disproportionate number of votes in predominantly black counties were purged, and that voter intimidation occurred in two Florida counties, Broward (Fort Lauderdale) and Hillsborough (Tampa).
"This is about the protection of American citizens' fundamental voting rights," Mfume said. "These are rights that people died for and marched for 35 years ago."
Mfume said the NAACP was tired of waiting to hear from the Justice Department officials and Attorney General Janet Reno, whose office was given a 296-page report Nov. 16 documenting allegations of voter irregularities.
"We will go back to the streets in every community that we can in a peaceful way to say enough is enough and democracy must work for all of us," Mfume said.
He also chastised TV networks for virtually excluding people of color in their coverage of the presidential election.
"There's a virtual whitewashing of the coverage of this whole election process," Mfume said. "So very few people who are Latino or African-American or Asian have been called on to say anything at all. It's almost gotten to the point where it's beyond insulting. It's another denial of opportunity taking place."