- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: The very name conjures up a vision of governmental good and political purpose, not to mention hallowed principles and at least a half-dozen columns of polished marble. Too bad its just a highfalutin moniker for a hack political operation.
Over the past week, the commission has made front-page headlines with a "report" on its investigation into rumors of racial bias kindled in the aftermath of Election Day, 2000, in Florida. Although, as the commissions two lone conservative members have noted, the report offers "not a shred" of statistical evidence to prove a single incident of discrimination against any minority or disabled voter, it strongly condemns Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris for having been "grossly derelict" by conducting a statewide election blighted by "a pattern and practice of injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency." As the report puts it, "Widespread voter disenfranchisement and not the dead-heat contest … was the extraordinary feature in the Florida election."
It may be a truism (and a particularly grating one) that there are two sides to every story, but not this time. That is, there is no way to approach the actual facts of the Florida election, not the heated spin of the moment, and conclude that "widespread voter disenfranchisement" was that particular storys "extraordinary feature" unless, of course, one is seeking to change, cloud, or undermine the ending. It is this kind of unabashed politicking that would seem to be the purpose of the civil rights commission under Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry, a Gore supporter before the election who, even as the commission was conducting its Florida inquiry after the election, publicly lamented Al Gores defeat. How else to assess a report claiming "widespread voter disenfranchisement" without offering evidence? How else to interpret the strategic leak to the press of the reports findings before Florida officials, or even the commissions conservative members had the opportunity to review them? Such partisan activity has little to do with justice for all.
This is not to say that Floridas election wasnt sloppy and chaotic so sloppy and chaotic, in fact, that Florida has already enacted electoral reforms to standardize and modernize the states election apparatus. In addition to irregularities concerning felons voting, some number of absentee military ballots not being counted, and the Florida panhandle being effectively shut down early by erroneous network reports of a Gore victory (none of which the commission concerned itself with), counties with high minority populations returned spoiled ballots at a consistently higher rate than other counties. But there are many explanations for this disparity short of unsupported claims of governmental "injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency" illiteracy and voting inexperience among them. "It wasnt disenfranchisement," explained Abigail Thernstrom, co-author of "America in Black and White" and the commissions sole Republican. "That implies there was a state effort."
Not even this commission goes that far at least not explicitly. But that is the unmistakably ugly implication of its report. And there is nothing either civil or right about that.

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