In a victory for transparency and democracy, a judge in Leon County has ordered the release of Florida’s list of felons to purge from the rolls:

Florida’s error-prone list of 47,763 suspected felons who could be tossed from voter rolls before November’s presidential election contains nearly three times as many registered Democrats as Republicans. Almost half are racial minorities…Circuit Judge Nikki Ann Clark said in her ruling that the Florida Constitution “grants every person the fundamental right to inspect or copy public records.” Further, the state had previously allowed the public and news media to inspect the list and not make copies, but Clark cited previous state court rulings that said the public’s access was “valueless without the right to make copies.”…Among racial groups, the largest reported group was non-Hispanic whites with 24,197, followed by 22,084 non-Hispanic blacks, 1,384 unknowns, 61 Hispanics, 14 Asian or Pacific-Islanders, 12 American Indians and 11 others. The list consisted of 37,777 men and 9,986 women.

Mistakenly purging eligible voters from the rolls was among the state’s biggest stumbles in the 2000 presidential election in Florida, which decided the presidency by 537 votes. The list included voters who had never been convicted of crimes, some whose rights had been restored by other states and others whose names matched those of felons. Nobody knows how many valid voters were disenfranchised. In response to those errors, the state asked the counties to verify the list in advance of elections and, if they could not, to remove questionable voters from the rolls. Florida is one of just seven states where felons must petition to regain voting rights after serving their time. Counties must issue letters to voters who could be declared ineligible. Only those who can prove they’re eligible to vote will be left on the rolls. Secretary of State Glenda Hood said in a statement announcing the release of the information that it contains potential matches and is not a final list.

To describe the 2000 purge as “mistaken” is misleading at best. As Greg Palast wrote recently:

This “no count,” as the Civil Rights Commission calls it, is no accident. In Florida, for example, I discovered that technicians had warned Gov. Jeb Bush’s office well in advance of November 2000 of the racial bend in the vote- count procedures. Herein lies the problem. An apartheid vote-counting system is far from politically neutral. Given that more than 90 percent of the black electorate votes Democratic, had all the “spoiled” votes been tallied, Gore would have taken Florida in a walk, not to mention fattening his popular vote total nationwide. It’s not surprising that the First Brother’s team, informed of impending rejection of black ballots, looked away and whistled. The ballot-box blackout is not the monopoly of one party. Cook County, Ill., has one of the nation’s worst spoilage rates. That’s not surprising. Boss Daley’s Democratic machine, now his son’s, survives by systematic disenfranchisement of Chicago’s black vote.

Releasing the lists is a vital step in stopping the whitewashing of the voter rolls from proceeding as planned again. In the meantime, Bush and company are scoring double victories by convincing all too many of those we’re out in Tampa pressing to register to vote that it isn’t worth it because, as many have put it, “They don’t count the votes – they just put whoever they want in there anyway.”

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