- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The Justice Department yesterday said it planned to file lawsuits against counties in Florida, accusing officials who oversaw the hotly contested 2000 presidential election of voting-rights violations.
Assistant Attorney General Ralph F. Boyd Jr., who heads the department's civil rights division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that voting-rights lawsuits also would be filed against officials in cities in Missouri and Tennessee.
None of the counties or cities was identified.
The lawsuits will name election officials on charges ranging from the disparate treatment of minority voters and the improper purging of voter rolls to "motor voter" registration violations and failure to provide access to disabled voters, Mr. Boyd said.
Additional charges, he said, would include failure to offer non-English-speaking voters bilingual assistance at the polls.
Mr. Boyd's comments came during an oversight hearing by the committee of the department's civil rights division.
Officials in Florida came under fire during the 2000 presidential election when it took weeks, several recounts, hundreds of hanging chads and, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court to declare that Texas Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, had defeated his Democratic challenger, Vice President Al Gore.
Several civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, charged at the time that Florida blacks had been denied access to polling places as part of a systematic plan to disenfranchise black voters.
Mr. Jackson, Mr. Mfume and others said a pattern of voter suppression by Florida officials and law enforcement authorities had prohibited blacks from entering polling precincts throughout the state, allowing Mr. Bush to steal the election.
Donna Brazile, Mr. Gore's campaign manager, said black voters faced "dogs and guns" in trying to get to the polls, and Lyndon LaRouche, a perennial presidential candidate, called for a congressional investigation.
No specific accusations naming individuals were brought by the black leaders, and state officials in Florida never returned any criminal complaints after a lengthy investigation.
Several Florida officials, community leaders and law enforcement authorities said that while voting problems did occur, accusations that blacks and others were illegally denied access to polling sites as part of a coordinated scheme were unfounded.
They said logistical problems caused by an unexpectedly large turnout of black voters were to blame for most of the incidents, along with flawed registration lists, faulty ballots and voting equipment.
More than 900,000 blacks voted in the Nov. 7 election, a 65 percent increase from the 1996 election.
Nearly 12,000 voting-rights complaints were received by the Justice Department after the 2000 election. They resulted in 14 active investigations.
Mr. Boyd told the committee he expected the cases would be filed in federal court within the next two months. He said it would be "well in advance of the primaries for the November 2002 elections."
"My hope, my aspiration and my expectation is that in each of those we'll reach an enforceable agreement prior to the filing of the lawsuit," Mr. Boyd said, noting that election officials in Florida, Tennessee and Missouri cooperated in the Justice Department's investigation and acknowledged "certain deficiencies we have identified."
He said that while the government intended to proceed promptly with the lawsuits, it was important to ensure that investigators went forward with caution and "get it right without regard to the political implications for anyone."
"We're going to follow the investigative trail, the evidence wherever it goes without regard to politics and without regard to whose, if anyone's, ox is being gored," Mr. Boyd said.

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