Jeb Bush's secret weapon
94,000 people on a voter "purge" list -- half of
them African-American --
continue to be banned from voting in Florida,
even though the state knows
the list is wildly inaccurate.


Nov. 1, 2002  |  by Greg Palast Salon.com

In December 2000, we reported
that Florida's use of a
faulty and politically questionable list of
felons and dead people
"scrubbed" from voter rolls -- half of them
African-Americans -- may have
cost Al Gore the 537-vote margin of victory
claimed by George W. Bush in
Florida.

Fast-forward two years. There's another close
race in Florida. This time,
younger brother Jeb is fighting to fend off a
challenge from Bill McBride
for the governor's race. The Nov. 5 face-off
could again come down to
thousands, if not hundreds, of votes.

And even though the list has been widely
condemned -- the company that
created it admits probable errors -- the same
voter scrub list, with more
than 94,000 names on it, is still in operation in
Florida. Moreover, DBT
Online, which generated the disastrously flawed
list, reports that if it
followed strict criteria to eliminate those
errors, roughly 3,000 names
would remain -- and a whopping 91,000 people
would have their voting rights
restored.

Eventually the list will be fixed, state
officials have promised, in
accordance with a settlement with the NAACP in
its civil rights suit against
Florida following the 2000 election. But not
until the beginning of next
year -- and after Jeb Bush's reelection bid is
long over.

Florida is the only state paying a private
company that promises to
"cleanse" voter rolls. The state signed a $4
million contract with DBT in
1998 (since 1999 a division of ChoicePoint of
Atlanta) to create the scrub
list, called the central voter file, which was
mandated by a 1998 state
voter-fraud law. That followed a tumultuous year
that saw Miami's mayor
removed after an election in which ballots were
cast in the names of dead
people. The voter-fraud law required all 67
counties to purge duplicate
registrations and deceased voters from voter
registries, in addition to
removing felons, many of whom, but not all, are
barred from voting in
Florida.

DBT was instructed to list all voters whose
names, birth dates, genders and
races closely (but not exactly) matched those of
ex-felons throughout the
United States. But those matches were
purposefully broad -- and imprecise.

During congressional hearings in April 2001,
ChoicePoint vice president
James Lee testified that the company had warned
Florida election officials
that the results would not be completely
accurate. "DBT told state officials
that the rules for creating this list would mean
a significant number of
people who weren't dead, who weren't registered
in [in a Florida county],
and who were not convicted felons would be
included on the list," Lee said,
adding that while "DBT made a lot of suggestions
to the state on ways to
reduce the number of eligible voters on that
list," he quoted a Florida
official who told them that they "want[ed] to
capture more names that
possibly aren't matches" and let the county
supervisors determine if they
were the right person or not.

Since that experience, ChoicePoint has gone out
of the business of scrubbing
lists. Lee said that "although we had been
approached by other states to
perform similar work, ChoicePoint has declined to
perform voter registration
for other states" because "when comes to
performing work which may impact a
person's right to vote, we are not confident that
any of the methods that
are used today will guarantee that the legal
voters will not be wrongfully
denied the right to vote."

Florida, however, seems to have decided to keep
using those methods. Even
when they're laughably inaccurate.

The state's list, most of which has been obtained
and reviewed by Salon,
contains such alleged criminals as Thomas Cooper,
whose inclusion on the
list represents either the dawning of a "Minority
Report"-era of predicting
criminal behavior -- or a glaring error.
According to the list, Cooper is
listed as a felon convicted on Jan. 30, 2007. In
all, the list includes more
than 400 people whose crimes were apparently
committed in the future. More
than 8,000 on the list have no conviction date at
all. And eight,
remarkably, appear to have been convicted before
they were even born.

In 1998, elections officials with the secretary
of state's office secretly
directed DBT to use "fuzzy" matches of first
names such as John, Johnny and
Joan. As a result, voter Johnny Little of Leon
County was not allowed to
vote in 2000, because of a crime committed by one
Johnnie Little of "locale
unknown." In this case, the legal names did not
match, but the two Littles'
birth date and race (both are black) did. Johnny
Little was tagged for
removal from voter rolls. Also, the state, over
the objections of DBT, also
ordered the company to ignore suffixes such as
"Jr." and "II," and
mismatches of middle initials.

As part of the NAACP's suit against Florida,
ChoicePoint agreed to review
all the scrub lists. The company's report, dated
Aug. 19, 2002, indicates
that of the 94,000 names on the lists, only 3,000
match the nine key
criteria (including social security number) that
experts -- including DBT's
senior vice president, George Bruder -- have
stated is necessary to avoid
misidentification.

Even before the 2000 election, some county
election officials, interviewed
by Salon two years ago, had disobeyed the order
of the secretary of state's
office and disregarded the lists, deciding they
were faulty. That included
Madison County's election supervisor, Linda
Howell, who found her own name
erroneously among the "felons."

But many others did use the list -- and are
likely to use it this year as
well, because the state has not instructed them
otherwise.

So what's the delay in yanking the faulty lists?
Salon asked former
Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who is also
a congressional candidate
this year. But calls to her attorney -- the
ironically named John W. Little
III, of Palm Beach -- went unreturned. Calls to
the Florida Department of
Elections were also not returned.

The racial bent of the scrub list - and its
particular bias against
Democrats -- was a foreseeable result of the
purge methodology.
African-Americans account for approximately 46
percent of felony convictions
in the United States, so it's no surprise that
ChoicePoint's report for the
NAACP on its scrub lists found that less than
half of those on the Florida
list are identified as white. (The Voting Rights
Act of 1965 requires
Florida to ask voters to state their race on
registration forms.)

Florida's black voters are expected to cast
ballots by at least 4-1 against
Jeb Bush on Nov. 5, according to a recent Miami
Herald poll. And a
University of Minnesota study indicates that nine
of 10 ex-cons, on leaving
jail, vote Democratic, no matter their race.

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American
Way Foundation, which
represented the NAACP in its suit, is disturbed
by the state's
foot-dragging. "They've known about the flaws in
the list for at least two
years, yet they come up with every excuse for not
getting these names back
on." Florida's slow efforts contrast markedly
with the initial rush to purge
those voters, accomplished in a matter of weeks.
That first cleansing of the
voter rolls occurred in 1998 under Harris'
predecessor as secretary of
state, Republican Sandra Mortham. At the time,
Mortham overruled the
objections of county elections officials in order
to rush the purge's
completion in a matter of weeks, just in time for
Jeb Bush's first
successful race for governor.

While some on the list were never scrubbed, tens
of thousands of other
citizens not on the purge list nevertheless lost
their vote. They were
wrongly denied the right to register. A directive
from Gov. Jeb Bush's
office dated Sept. 18, 2000, six weeks before the
presidential election,
ordered county officials to deny the vote to
those convicted of felonies in
other states. Two court rulings prior to the
election directed the secretary
of state to cease denying the civil rights of
ex-cons who had relocated to
Florida. Bush's clemency office corrected this
error, affecting at least
40,000 citizens, but only on Feb. 23, 2001, after
the presidential election.

The DBT purge list includes 2,800 such
out-of-state felons whom Harris and
Roberts, in the settlement with the NAACP,
acknowledge should never have
been purged.

That failure to restore those voters' rights in
time for the governor's race
especially troubles Larry Ottinger, co-counsel
for the NAACP. "We should
never have had to litigate this. They've admitted
their error. There's
simply no excuse for not returning this group of
2,800 to the rolls right
now." The NAACP has been told that the state is
waiting for reports from
eight states to determine if any of these persons
are still in jail or
serving probationary sentences.

Florida paid DBT $4.3 million over three years to
help identify felons
illegally registered to vote, replacing a company
that had charged the state
only $5,700 per year for this work. DBT was
chosen because the giant
database operator, which aids the FBI on
manhunts, offered to verify the
accuracy of the list using several of its 1,200
databases, including
change-of-address and driver's license records.
DBT was also paid to verify
the data by telephone calls, an arduous, costly,
but necessary task where
civil rights are involved.

State records show DBT was paid the millions to
conduct the verification
work. But, with the state's permission, DBT
skipped those costly
cross-checks. Last February, when asked to
explain why DBT was paid for
verification work not done, Florida Elections
Division chief Clayton Roberts
ended an agreed-upon interview with this
reporter, locked himself in his
office, and called in state troopers to remove
this reporter from the
Florida capitol building in Tallahassee.

This September, Roberts also signed a settlement
with the NAACP, agreeing to
reform the purge list. Roberts' explanation for
why the list has not been
dumped? He's not returning phone calls, either.