Friday, July 02, 2004

Report: Felon voting list includes thousands of eligible voters

Associated Press

MIAMI - More than 2,100 Floridians who had their voting rights restored were included on a list of felons potentially ineligible to vote, a newspaper reported Friday.

The names were on a Florida Division of Elections list of more than 47,000 people who may be felons that appear to match the names of registered voters. The list was sent to county elections supervisors, who are expected to determine just who should be removed from the rolls.

The Miami Herald found at least 2,119 on that list had received clemency and were eligible to vote.

The Division of Elections disputed the report, saying the newspaper's analysis was incomplete and misleading.

The newspaper didn't check the list with Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, so some of the people who received clemency could have committed another felony and lost their voting rights again, elections spokeswoman Nicole DeLara said.

The state checks the clemency list against records from the FDLE and the Corrections Department, but the Herald only used correction records, she said.

"I don't think they're comparing all of the information," DeLara said. "I think their study is incomplete and I think their report is inaccurate."

Meanwhile, a civil rights organization set up a Web site, www.pfaw.org/go/purge, for people to search for names on the list. The database was announced one day after a judge ordered the state to provide the public with copies of the list. The Herald had obtained a copy in advance.

"The state has admitted there could well be errors, which could include individuals who have never even committed a crime," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way. "Now we can help people check for themselves."

DeLara said the list is a database of potential matches, not a final list of names that will be purged from the voter rolls. In fact, more than 300 people on the list were flagged for elections supervisors because they might have clemency.

"We recognize their are people on this list that are not felons," she said. "This list is the beginning of the process, not the end of the process."

On Election Day, anyone who feels they have been inadvertently removed from the voter rolls will be allowed to vote using a provisional ballot, she said. Elections supervisors will err on the side of the voter, she said.

Of the 2,119 people found by the Herald, 62 percent were registered Democrats, and almost half were black. Less than 20 percent were Republican. The paper contacted 36 people who confirmed they had clemency.

Walter Gibbons, 53, of Miami Gardens, was on the list. He's a Vietnam veteran convicted of drug possession in 1973 but was granted clemency in 1978.

"I don't think it's fair that they're trying to stop me from voting, because everybody that commits a crime does not stay a criminal," said Gibbons, an ordained minister. "I had my error in life, but that was a long time ago, over 30 years now, and I'm a different person."

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