- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2004

The outcome of the 2000 presidential election left more than a few raised eyebrows around the country, and in Florida elderly and black voters were particularly peeved, feeling, mostly, that they were cheated. In response, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which established uniform national voting standards. Some regulations kicked in New Year’s Day of this year, while others won’t take effect until 2006. Like the misnamed Medicare reform law passed last year, the voting reform law is misleading.

Florida, by example, is one of several states that bar felons from voting — unless the ex-con successfully challenges to be re-franchised. On which side of that issue you stand is not my interest, at this time. Here and now, I take issue with the intimidating tactics being used in Florida to determine who does and does not have the right to vote in Florida.

To be sure, there is an untold number of people who cast ballots but are not supposed to for various reasons, including the fact that they are a felon or illegal alien. But there also are tens of thousands of people who vote in more than one state. Establishing a “uniform” national voter database might help purge state rolls of the former and the latter. That is a nonpartisan debate that federal and state policy-makers should begin after this election cycle — after voters have decided who they want in the White House, Congress, statehouses and city halls.

Unfortunately, a recent turn of events in Florida are front and center, with some well-placed officials mistakenly labeling them Republican-sanctioned civil-rights violations.

In short, Florida spent $4 million to purge its voter rolls of suspected felons. State officials believe they removed about 40,000. However, not all the names removed from the rolls were those of felons. Indeed, many were legitimate voters. Eventually, Florida’s secretary of state discarded that list. But the wheels of voter intimidation were already churning. As part of an investigation into allegations of voter fraud that sprung from the Orlando mayoral race, Florida state troopers harassed and reportedly intimidated elderly black voters. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it was looking for a “person of interest” named Ezzie Thomas. Mr. Thomas is 73 years old, black and a get-out-the-vote activist.

Now, utilizing armed state troopers to visit the homes of people however remotely or directly suspected of voter fraud is a waste of law enforcement’s resources. When such policies are directed toward elderly blacks, visions of Jim Crow dance in their heads.

As things now stand, the Justice Department and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission have been asked to sort out the ugly details. One question that must be answered in any ensuing federal probe is this: Did Florida authorities violate Title 18, Section 245 of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, which states, among other things, that it is a violation of federal law to intimidate, injure or interfere, by force or threat, with a person’s voting-rights efforts?

An NAACP official in Florida has said he would like an investigation. Six members of Congress, including Rep. Alcee Hastings, a former federal judge from Florida, and Rep. Peter Deutsch, signed a letter to the Justice Department urging a probe. Provisions under Title 18 “address the improper and questionable purging of names from the voting rolls and would certainly include ‘visits’ to the homes of voters. We hope this matter will be given the highest priority to ensure that all voters have equal access to the ballot box,” the letter-writers say.

Again, it is vitally important to the integrity of America’s fundamental voting-rights laws that states, every now and again, check and recheck their rolls for illegal aliens, people voting in more than one jurisdiction or more than one state, and so on.

Still, there are two distinct issues in play in Florida. The first, and the most obvious, is did Florida authorities indeed break federal law in their efforts to uphold state and/or federal law. Only an investigation by federal authorities can objectively probe the turn of events and deliver answers based on the rule of law.

The other issue stems from perception. Look at it this way: Whether a person or group of people who burn a swastika into a lawn intentionally meant to intimidate the Jews who live there or not, the bottom line is that such an act is, in and of itself, a form of intimidation. The same applies to cross-burnings. State and federal laws (and legal precedents) currently on the books already urge enforcement against such acts.

As for the connection to the 2000 presidential election, suffice it to say the perception remains that the Republicans stole the election. That is not the foremost thought the Bush-Cheney campaign wants on the minds of voters this fall.

Surely, Attorney General John Ashcroft understands that. He is a very smart and savvy politician.

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