June 18, 2002|
Mr. Christopher Edley
United States Commission on Civil Rights
Dear Mr. Edley,
The purpose of this letter is to bring to the attention of this commission an outline of the very extensive and strong evidence that Democrats.com is compiling in our extensive investigation of the 2000 Presidential election in Florida and to relate this evidence to the issues outlined in the commission's press release that announced this 6/20/02 hearing in Miami.
Unequal Treatment of Absentee and Election Day Ballots
In 2000, Florida election law clearly required that all votes where the intent of the voter is clear be counted - regardless of whether or not the machines could read the votes - and specifically allowed for the hand duplication of ballots that the machines could not read so that these votes could be counted.
In fact, in 2000 numerous Florida county canvassing boards in mostly Republican counties hand duplicated and then counted approximately 10,000 absentee ballots that the machines could not read. These absentee ballots favored George W. Bush by more than 2 to 1. But these same counties gave no such special treatment to ballots cast on Election Day at regular voting booths, which favored Al Gore.
It was up to Election Day voters in these counties to understand that their ballots would not be counted if their ballot was not machine readable, and they had to request a new ballot. They were only given a new ballot if they requested it. Absentee ballot voters in these counties faced no such requirement, and their machine-unreadable ballots were automatically duplicated by county officials. Many of the county canvassing boards that hand duplicated and counted these absentee ballots that the machines could not read failed to count Election Day cast ballots where the intent of the voter was clear but the machines could not read.
This different treatment given to absentee ballots that the machines could not read - versus Election Day cast ballots that the machines could not read - is a gross violation of the 14th amendment as absentee ballots heavily favored George W. Bush while ballots cast on election day favored Al Gore. This different treatment of these ballots heavily disenfranchised minority voters who heavily favored Al Gore, since minority voters mostly voted on Election Day, while absentee ballots were cast mostly by white voters.
It must also be noted that the Bush campaign never once objected to (or tried to block) the hand duplication and counting of these absentee ballots that the machines could not read that so heavily favored their candidate. But the Bush campaign deliberately blocked hand counts for ballots that favored their opponent, Al Gore and thwarted the will of the people of Florida. Democrats.com is currently compiling copies of the county ballot duplication logs that documents these hand duplicated absentee ballots.
Florida Secretary of State and Bush campaign co-chair Katherine Harris included the counting of these hand duplicated absentee ballots in her certified vote total, while she deliberately blocked the hand counting of ballots cast on Election Day that the machines could not read - thereby intentionally refusing to enforce Florida election law.
Florida election law in 2000 clearly specified that a hand count was an available remedy for settling a close election and that fraud did not have to be proved in an election contest. The truth is, hand counts have routinely been used to settle close elections in Florida for many years. In fact at the very same time Katherine Harris was on national TV blocking the hand counts requested by the Gore campaign in heavily Democratic counties, a hand count of election day cast ballots that the machines could not read was in fact done in the District 1 race for the Suncoast Fire Department advisory board race in Pinellas county. Pinellas County also used the same punch card voting equipment as those counties in which the Gore campaign had asked for hand counts. Democrats.com has a copy of the transcript of the Pinellas county canvassing board meeting where the decision was made to do the hand count in the local fire department advisory board race.
The Florida Constitution clearly requires the Secretary of State to enforce all of Florida's election laws equally across the state. In 2000, Katherine Harris deliberately did not do this in order to help her personal Presidential candidate, George W. Bush. Under Katherine Harris, a candidate for a local fire department advisory board race was given more rights than a candidate for President. This is a gross violation of the Florida Constitution.
Mandatory Machine Recounts
Katherine Harris failed to make all counties conduct the mandatory machine recount ordered in the Presidential race. Democrats.com is also in the process of documenting which counties did not conduct this mandatory machine recount. The estimate is 18 counties. Approximately 1/4th of the ballots cast on Election Day were never recounted and Katherine Harris was well aware of this fact.
Partisan Abuse of the Secretary of State's Office
In addition to refusing to enforce Florida's election laws, Katherine Harris clearly abused her elected office by allowing operatives from the Republican Party and the Bush campaign to set up an office within her Secretary of State's office and allowed them the use of state equipment such as computers, etc. This is a direct violation of Florida's ethics laws.
Katherine Harris further abused her office by lobbying and manipulating Palm Beach county canvassing board chair, Judge Charles Burton into requesting an advisory opinion from the state elections department on hand counts because she knew that the advisory opinion would be binding on the county canvassing board and it would be another way of blocking a hand count in Palm Beach county because voters in that county favored Al Gore by a large margin.
Partisan Abuse of the Governor's Office
Both Katherine Harris and Florida Governor Jeb Bush were heavily involved in purging legally registered minority and Democratic voters with their deliberately erroneous felon purge list as has been documented and given to this committee by journalist Greg Palast. This erroneous felon purge also violates the 14th amendment, the voting rights act and Florida election law.
In addition, Governor Jeb Bush lied when he publicly claimed to have recused himself from the state canvassing board. Despite this public statement, Governor Bush worked behind the scenes abusing his public office on behalf of his brother's campaign by making 95 phone calls to people in the Bush/Cheney campaign, by threatening to not give state business to state law firms who represented Al Gore in the election dispute and by allowing numerous state employees the opportunity to help the Bush/Cheney campaign. All of this violates Florida election and ethics laws.
In addition, Governor Bush encouraged the Republican controlled Florida legislature to call an illegal special legislative session to award Florida's electoral votes to his brother and thwart the will of the people of Florida if all of the uncounted votes were counted and that put Al Gore ahead of his brother in the vote count. The Florida Constitution very specifically states that Florida's Presidential electors are chosen by a vote of the people of Florida and this special legislative session clearly violated that provision of Florida's Constitution.
Before the election, Governor Bush clearly violated Florida's very specific absentee ballot laws by sending out a letter only to Republicans encouraging them to vote by absentee ballot in the comfort of their own home. This letter used an older version of the Florida state seal. Florida law prohibits the use of the state seal for partisan political purposes and it is the Florida Secretary of State who is responsible for keeping control of the state seal.
In 2000, Florida absentee ballot law very specifically stated that absentee ballots were only to be requested by those voters who would be more than 100 miles fro home on election day, in the hospital or an election day worker. Governor Bush's illegal letter totally changed Florida's absentee ballot law. The 2001 reform law tries to cover these tracks by changing the law to what was in Governor Bush's letter but that was not what absentee ballot law was in Florida in 2000.
Discriminatory Use of Voting Machines
The very voting equipment used by the voters in the 2000 election in Florida, heavily disenfranchised minority voters. Minority voters were more likely to live in the counties that used the punch card voting equipment or optical scanners with central office tabulation. These machines had a much higher rate of ballots thrown out than the optical scanners with precinct tabulation, which was used in the counties that voted most heavily for George W. Bush. In contrast, the counties that used the punch card voting equipment voted most heavily for Al Gore and punch card votes were the most likely votes to be thrown out and not counted. This discrepancy in voting equipment clearly violates the 14th amendment, the voting rights act and Florida election law.
Illegal Actions by Republican Election Supervisors John Stafford and Theresa LePore
There are two county election supervisors whose conduct also clearly violated a number of Florida election laws.
The first is Duval county election supervisor and a Republican, John Stafford. For the Duval county sample ballot, Stafford placed the Presidential candidates in a single line with the instructions to vote every page. For the actual Election Day ballot, Stafford placed the Presidential candidates in 2 lines on 2 different pages. This is a direct violation of Florida election law, which requires the design of the sample ballot to match the design of the actual ballot. This change in ballot design caused many thousands of overvotes, especially in heavily African American precincts in Duval County.
During the 72 hours after Election Day that campaigns in Florida have to request hand counts of ballots, Stafford repeatedly lied about the huge number of uncounted ballots in Duval County until the 72 hours was almost up. Stafford consistently tried to claim that the number of uncounted ballots was much lower than it really was.
Democrats.com believes that these illegal actions by Duval county election supervisor John Stafford are another blatant example of the horrendous disenfranchisement that minority voters faced in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election.
The second county election supervisor who violated Florida election law is Palm Beach supervisor Theresa LePore with her butterfly ballot design that clearly violated Florida ballot design requirements, which require minor party candidates to be placed below the major party candidates on the ballot - and that the second major party candidate after the candidate of the Governor's party be listed second on the ballot. Pat Buchanan should have been listed underneath Al Gore on the ballot, not across from him and the second punch hole should have been for Al Gore, not Pat Buchanan.
In addition it is disturbing that Ms. LePore - who has worked for the Palm Beach county elections department for 25 years - could design a ballot that so grossly violated Florida ballot design requirements. This illegal ballot disenfranchised many thousands of minority voters including African Americans, the elderly and Holocaust survivors who mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore and who were then wrongly denied a new ballot by Palm Beach county poll workers - an additional violation of Florida election law, which allows all voters the right to request up to 3 new ballots in order to correct mistakes that the voters realize that they have made.
2001 Reform Law is Being Violated by Secretary of State Katherine Harris
In addition to not preventing a highly partisan Secretary of State from refusing to enforce Florida's election laws as Katherine Harris did in 2000, most of the 2001 reform law is nothing more than a re-affirmation of the law that was already on the books in 2000 as was documented above in this letter - so there's not much reform there.
Katherine Harris is already violating the one piece of the 2001 law that is a reform and nothing is being done to stop this violation. The 2001 law specifically prohibits Katherine Harris from hiring a private firm to create the voting purge list. Ms. Harris is directly violating this law by hiring Accenture to develop the new voting purge lists. Accenture has very deep ties to the Republican Party and especially the far right wing of the Republican Party because one of its partners is former State Senator Van Poole, a far right wing Republican from Broward County.
Ms. Harris's direct violation of this reform must be dealt with along with her deliberate failure to enforce the 2000 election laws. Ms. Harris must be held accountable for her lawbreaking, which thwarted the will of the people of Florida and the will of the American people in the 2000 Presidential election, and it disenfranchised many thousands of minority voters.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Coverup of 2000 Violations
The Republican-controlled state government of Florida continues to cover-up and not address the numerous violations of Florida law that were committed with the 2000 Presidential election. In late 2001, state Rep. Irv Slosberg of Palm Beach County demanded an investigation of Palm Beach County and the 2000 election. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is finally now conducting the investigation. On June 7th, the Palm Beach Post newspaper reported that Palm Beach county canvassing board attorney Leon St. John claims that special agent Bill Butler (who is conducting this investigation) has thrown out all but 1 of the 112 allegations.
When Rep. Slosberg first filed his complaint, the Miami Herald reported that part of Rep. Slosberg's complaint was based on the very extensive investigation that the Miami Herald had done for its book "Democracy Held Hostage," which documented the severe disrepair that the Palm Beach county punch card voting machines were in for the 2000 election. The Miami Herald carefully examined 250 of the punch card voting machines that had been used in the 2000 election in Palm Beach county and found the machines full of severely worn parts and produced numerous ballots that also contained the dimpled and partially dislodged chads that were so common with the Presidential ballots in that county in 2000.
Florida election law requires the county election supervisors to properly maintain the voting equipment. The Miami Herald's book (Democrats.com has a copy) provides clear evidence that the Palm Beach county election department failed to properly maintain its punch card voting equipment as required by law.
The Miami Herald's book also provides pictures of these various types of chads that prevented the machines from reading these ballots and the intent of these voters was very clear. Florida law requires such ballots where the intent of the voter is clear to be counted, but the Palm Beach county canvassing board failed to do so. These are clear violations of Florida election law by Palm Beach County and once again the Republican controlled state government is failing to enforce Florida's election laws. Something must be done about this.
Justice Department Coverup of 2000 Crimes
Finally, the U.S. Justice Department's investigation of the egregious voting rights violations in Florida is best described as a sham. Its investigation addresses none of the serious violations of numerous Florida laws, which disenfranchised thousands of minority voters and changed the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election as documented in this letter.
Having the Justice Department investigate what happened in the 2000 Presidential election in Florida is a conflict of interest as Attorney General John Ashcroft is a direct beneficiary of the disenfranchisement of the thousands of minority voters in Florida, and two of the people most directly responsible for causing that disenfranchisement of minority voters are the brother and Florida campaign co-chair of the White House occupant. It is blatantly obvious that Attorney General Ashcroft has no intention of conducting a full and fair investigation of what happened in Florida.
Another example that supports this fact is in November 2000, the Gore/Lieberman campaign asked for an F.B.I. investigation of the thousands of overvotes found in heavily African American precincts in Miami/Dade county. The number of overvotes in these precincts in the 2000 election is way above the number of overvotes in these precincts in past Presidential elections. Numerous voters in these heavily African American precincts complained about being given ballots pre-punched in the Presidential race to vote on. Democrats.com would like to know if this F.B.I. investigation has been conducted and if so what is its status is as there has been no mention of it by the Justice department.
In conclusion, Democrats.com is making our extensive evidence of wrongdoing in Florida available to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in order that the American people can know the truth about how their will was deliberately thwarted in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election - and so that those who broke the law can be held accountable for their actions.
Moreover, the so-called election reform legislation passed by the Republican controlled Florida legislature in 2001 will not prevent what happened in Florida in 2000 from happening again because it does nothing to prevent a highly partisan Florida Secretary of State from refusing to enforce those Florida election laws that are already on the books, as Katherine Harris did in 2000.