Fla. officials drop purge of felons from voting lists

State's database is found to contain major floaws

July 11, 2004|By Bob Mahlburg and John Kennedy | Bob Mahlburg and John Kennedy,ORLANDO SENTINEL

TALLAHASSEE - Florida elections officials decided yesterday to scrap a list of "potential felons" after discovering another flaw that could have proved politically explosive for a state trying to run an undisputed election.

The database, maligned for weeks by civil rights advocates, was dumped because it shielded virtually all Hispanic felons from being purged from the voter rolls. The admission came on top of earlier errors, such as including thousands of people on the list whose rights had already been restored.

"It's a great day for democracy in Florida," said Jessie Allen, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, a group suing the state over the constitutionality of its felon voting ban. "There have been numerous and massive problems with the list, and finally they had to realize this is not a fixable problem."

The move was a major setback for state officials, including Secretary of State Glenda Hood, Florida's chief elections officer. The former Orlando mayor has stressed that confidence in the elections system is critical in after the botched 2000 presidential balloting.

Because the list included only 61 Hispanic names and more than 22,000 blacks, it was clear that black Floridians had a much greater chance of being dropped from voter rolls.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Wednesday that while Hispanics make up 17 percent of Florida's population, only 61 voters were identified as "Hispanic" on the statewide purge list of nearly 48,000 potential felons.

State officials said the discrepancy occurred because they used race as one of the criteria required to match people listed on voter registration rolls with people listed in criminal records. But the criminal history list did not include "Hispanic" among its race categories.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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