How the GOP Gamed the System in Florida
But if purging was the most egregious form of disfranchisement--and possibly the one deliberate attempt to reduce the Democratic vote--it wasn't the only cause of the reduced vote total. An underfunded elections system resulted in poor equipment being used in many counties, and ill-trained and sometimes ill-informed poll workers also kept voters from casting their ballots.
For months leading up to November 7, county supervisors had been sending lists of newly registered voters to Tallahassee, and it was clear that a large turnout could be expected, especially in the black community. But Secretary of State Harris and Division of Elections chief Clay Roberts testified that they never discussed that fact and the problems that might arise. The result was chaos at many polling places. Many eligible voters were turned away. Testimony by poll workers before the Civil Rights Commission, before an NAACP hearing in Miami on November 11 and interviews by The Nation make it clear that such incidents occurred in every corner of the state.
Some poll workers said dozens of people were not allowed to vote at their polling places, while others remembered only a few. But with some 6,000 polling places in the state, the numbers are significant. The NAACP suit cites voters who registered in plenty of time for the November 7 election, but whose names were never placed on the rolls and who were not allowed to vote. Some names of residents who took advantage of motor-voter legislation and registered at the same time that they obtained licenses from the Department of Motor Vehicles were not on voter rolls. Attempts to reach the offices of supervisors to clarify voters' eligibility were foiled by clogged phone lines in many of Florida's sixty-seven counties. Supervisors in some counties, obviously suspecting that such problems might occur, provided laptop computers with which poll workers could check central voter rolls. But only a small percentage of precincts received the laptops, and almost none were used in precincts that were majority black. In Miami-Dade, for example, out of eighteen laptops, only one was used in a black precinct.
Some poll workers, faced with an unprecedented tide of complaints, did their best to help. Others acted arbitrarily. The NAACP received complaints of voters who were in line at polling places by the 7 pm closing time but were turned away without being allowed to vote, which violates state guidelines. One Miami-Dade voter, Margarita Green, 75, testified before the Civil Rights Commission that she went to vote at her regular precinct but was not on the rolls. A poll worker informed Green that she had been removed from the rolls after she herself had called and requested it. "I never made such a phone call," said Green. "And how could they ever know it was really me who called? It makes no sense."
Some widows, who in decades past had shared the same Social Security numbers as their now-deceased husbands, showed up on lists of dead voters to be purged and therefore were informed they couldn't vote. The law allows people not listed on the rolls to vote by affidavit and then prove their eligibility later, but many poll workers knew nothing of that law and turned voters away. Similarly, a voter making an error on a ballot is entitled to hand the ballot in and obtain a replacement, but those requests were sometimes denied. Leaders of organizations for the disabled also testified that some polling places were ill equipped to allow them to vote.
An attorney for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund testified to twenty-six specific incidents in the Orlando area where Latino voters were either denied the right to vote or were forced to argue with poll workers before they cast their ballots. PRLDEF cited polling places that could not provide bilingual ballots and had no bilingual poll workers to offer assistance, as required by the Voting Rights Act in precincts with large minority populations. The PRLDEF report said the problem may have disfranchised up to several thousand Latino voters around the state. Marlene Bastien, a Haitian leader from Miami, testified to similar problems in Haitian neighborhoods, which she said may have left hundreds of voters unable to cast ballots.
Black residents of southern Leon County complained of a Florida Highway Patrol checkpoint on a road leading to a polling place and said it amounted to harassment of black voters. Police authorities later testified that the stops involved routine vehicle inspections and pledged that no such checkpoints would be used on election days in the future.