Skip to comments.GOP: Florida felons already voting
Posted on 10/29/2004 7:30:01 AM PDT by devane617
TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Republican Party said Thursday that more than 900 felons already have voted illegally or requested absentee ballots, triggering another controversy over the party's aggressive efforts to identify Floridians who might be unqualified to vote.
Using two controversial and flawed state databases, Republicans also said they identified an additional 13,568 felons expected to vote by Election Day, based on their participation in the 2000 or 2002 elections or their recent registration as a new voter.
The list of 921 felons who have already voted includes 65 names from Hillsborough County; 36 from Pinellas County; 11 from Hernando; three from Citrus; and one from Pasco. The party plans to give all its information to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for investigation.
"We believe this is simply the tip of the iceberg and there could be potentially additional felons who have registered," said Mindy Tucker Fletcher, spokesman for the Florida Republican Party.
But within hours of the Republicans' announcement came indications that the GOP list may suffer some of the same problems that caused Secretary of State Glenda Hood to scrap her controversial list of 47,763 suspected felon voters in July.
Reporters for the St. Petersburg Times quickly found two Tampa Bay area individuals on the GOP list who say they have had their voting rights restored.
Records show Neal D. Bolinger, 57, of St. Petersburg had his rights restored in 1974, two years after his conviction for grand larceny, and has been voting ever since.
He used an absentee ballot last week to vote straight Republican.
It's the second time in four years his name has been flagged. He had to convince Pinellas County election officials in 2000 that he was qualified.
"If every four years I come up on the list and have to have myself reinstated, that will become a problem, and I'll have to start shaking some trees," he said.
Tampa resident Jeffrey Arnold, 44, said he received his clemency more than a dozen years ago and has been voting ever since. The exact status of Arnold and others could not be confirmed Thursday by the Times.
Fletcher acknowledges the GOP's list started with flawed data.
Besides the state's controversial felon voting list, it relied on a Florida Parole Commission clemency list, updated through Oct.14, that has proven inaccurate in the past because it does not include many felons whose rights were restored under Gov. Reubin Askew in the 1970s.
"We felt it was important to see if supervisors (of elections) had done their jobs and cleaned their list when some admitted they hadn't," Fletcher said. "We wanted to see if the law was being broken across the state systematically."
But some supervisors countered that the list came from the same database Hood had ordered them not to use.
"Why would they use a list that is determined to have errors?" asked Pinellas supervisor Deborah Clark. "If their real objective is to keep ineligible voters from casting ballots, why didn't they give the list to supervisor of elections right away? No one from the Republican Party has contacted me."
Hillsborough Supervisor Buddy Johnson sounded a similar theme.
"I don't have the same information," he said. "I'm not removing anyone off any voter list until I have ascertained that they are in fact a felon."
Democrats and civil rights advocates charged that Thursday's announcement was a Republican maneuver aimed at suppressing Tuesday's vote and Sen. John Kerry's odds at winning Florida's 27 electoral votes.
The mere threat of an FDLE investigation into questionable cases could chill turnout among qualified voters, they contend.
"This is just one more attempt to intimidate, harass and disenfranchise voters," Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox said.
The potential impact of the Republican effort is unclear, since there is no mechanism before Election Day to challenge votes that have been cast.
"You can't take a vote back out of the box," said Florida Deputy Secretary of State Alia Faraj.
But the state GOP has not ruled out using the information on the remaining 13,568 suspected felons to challenge voters at the polls on Election Day, Fletcher said.
Under state law, such a challenge could force the would-be voter to cast a provisional ballot, which must be accepted by the county canvassing committee before it is counted.
Democrats were careful to say Thursday that they did not want anyone breaking the law.
"If, in fact, some people on this list should not be registered to vote, by all means they shouldn't be voting," said Christine Anderson, spokeswoman for the combined Democratic and Kerry-Edwards campaigns in Florida.
Some on the Republican list acknowledged Thursday they may not have been qualified to vote.
Gino Vonia, a 47-year-old St. Petersburg man, has a criminal record dating back to 1974 and has been arrested more than 20 times on multiple felonies, mostly involving sale and possession of drugs. He has been sent to state prison three times and was released in 2002.
But Vonia said that the justice system failed him and that he should be allowed to vote.
"If I had money, and wasn't black, I would have been found innocent," he said. "If they check my records, they'll bring it all out, and see I was innocent of the crime."
He sent off his absentee ballot a few days ago, voting for Kerry.
Daniel Sheldon, a 47-year-old Clearwater man, was convicted in 2003 of a felony charge of resisting an officer with violence. He, too, has cast a ballot this year, voting for Bush.
He said he received a notice on Oct.20, saying he was not allowed to vote. But Sheldon says he was wrongly convicted and should be allowed to vote.
"Theoretically, I broke the law," he says, "but people are seldom prosecuted. ... I'm going to gamble."
Indeed, Florida rarely enforces its ban on felon voting, which carries a maximum penalty of $5,000 and five years in prison.
Twice, frustrated state lawmakers have ordered the state elections division to create a database of illegal felon voters to help county election officials cull their rolls. Both times, the exercise has run into huge problems due to inconsistent databases.
Hood scrapped the state's second attempt in July, after critics had exposed numerous flaws. Among the problems: Few Hispanics were listed on the roles and at least 2,500 people who had been given clemency were included.
For All Others ~ Your vote don't count, 'cause the rules say so!
It is reported that the two sides met face-to-face in the streets, pointing fingers and yelling obsenities.
The police are there but keeping a low profile.
Suggestion: Everyone should take one of those cheap throwaway cameras with them to the polls and actually take or pretend to take pictures of the commies standing around with demonrat signs. Then inform them you're turning their picture over to your State Attorney General. Should be great fun! Get em all lathered up.
However, their is a shortage of ballots for registered voters. All Republican voters are asked to be patient and to stay at home until notified.
From the Fraud File. . .
5,643 Convicted Felons Illegally Voted; 68% Were Registered Democrats
Palm Beach Post
By Scott Hiaasen, Gary Kane and Elliot Jaspin
May 28, 2001
Thousands of felons voted in the presidential election last year, despite a three-year, $3.3 million campaign by state officials to keep them off the voter rolls.
A Palm Beach Post computer analysis has identified more than 5,600 people who voted on Nov. 7 though they appeared to perfectly match names on a statewide list of suspected felons. Each of these voters had exactly the same name, date of birth, race and gender as a felon identified by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
These illegal voters almost certainly influenced the down-to-the-wire presidential election. It's likely they benefited Democratic candidate Al Gore: Of the likely felons identified by The Post, 68 percent were registered Democrats.
In Florida, felons are barred from voting unless granted clemency. Any felon who "willfully" casts a ballot in spite of the law can be convicted of a third-degree felony.
But correctly identifying felons among Florida's 8.8 million registered voters sounds easier than it is: The state has yet to figure out how to find felons without catching legal voters in the same net.
The state hired a private company, Database Technologies Inc., to compile an annual list of felons by comparing voter rolls and criminal databases. This list was then sent to county elections supervisors.
While DBT found thousands of felons on the rolls, the company also identified thousands of innocent voters as "possible" or "probable" felons, causing chaos in the weeks before Election Day and leading to the disenfranchisement of scores of voters.
However, because of flaws in the data, it's possible that a few of the 5,643 felons The Post found aren't felons at all. In rare cases, someone could have the exact name, birth date and race as a felon. And in some cases, names of people convicted only of misdemeanors made their way onto FDLE's list of felons.
These flaws made most local elections supervisors skeptical of the list. While some used it carefully, removing only voters they could verify as felons, supervisors in
20 of the state's 67 counties ignored it altogether. More than 3,000 apparent felons voted in counties where the list was not used, The Post analysis shows.
One supervisor who didn't use the list was Theresa LePore of Palm Beach County. LePore said she thought the list was so flawed that by using it she would disenfranchise legitimate voters. So LePore chose instead to rely on her usual checks of local court records to find felons, a less thorough approach that all but guaranteed felons would make it to the polls.
The Post found 766 apparent felons who voted in Palm Beach County. "I chose not to use it because I choose to err on the side of the voter," LePore said. Many
Palm Beach County felons who made the list were convicted decades ago but continued to vote. One voter had a single conviction in 1957.
Without the DBT felon list, it's unlikely these illegal voters would ever be detected, because local court clerks don't scan old records for them. They only report felony convictions to the elections office as they occur.
One of these voters, Zara Hester of Belle Glade, said she had no idea she wasn't supposed to vote. Hester, 54, was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 1972; she said she shot a boyfriend in the leg in self-defense and paid only a small fine in court.
"They'd have to lock me away 30 years back, because I've been voting as long as I could vote," said Hester. Hester would not say for whom she voted on Nov. 7, but she is a lifelong Democrat. <>Another voter, Catherine Hanks of Pahokee, said she was unaware that she had a felony record. According to the FDLE, she was convicted in 1981 for her role in an illegal lottery and paid a $100 fine. Though she vaguely remembers the arrest -- "I know the police came, but they never booked me" -- she said no one ever told her she couldn't vote.
"Every time it comes time to vote, I vote," said Hanks, 65, who voted for Gore.
Skepticism of list spread
Statewide, Broward County had the largest number of felons who voted, with nearly 1,500. Officials there also avoided using the list because they found problems with it the year before; instead, they removed only those voters who admitted they were felons.
"It was quickly determined that the information (on the DBT list) was not credible or reliable . . . so we did not use the list at all," said Joe Cotter, assistant elections supervisor in Broward County.
The skepticism spread throughout the state last year, as county after county fielded complaints from voters wrongly targeted as convicts. Counties that employed the list did so cautiously, allowing thousands of felons to slip through the cracks.
In Duval County -- where 920 apparent felons cast ballots -- the elections office sent letters to more than 4,000 suspected felons on the DBT list, warning them that they could be removed from the rolls. But if a voter denied being a felon, officials took the voter at his word.
"We took the philosophy that we're not in the law enforcement business and we're not in the clemency business. We didn't have the resources for that," said Dick
Carlberg of the Duval County elections office.
Some elections supervisors allowed suspected felons to vote if they signed affidavits swearing they weren't criminals. Many of these affidavits came in on Election
Day, when officials were already swamped with surprisingly strong voter turnout.
Miami-Dade County Elections Supervisor David Leahy said he felt obligated to believe voters who signed these statements, noting how difficult it would be for the average person to prove himself innocent. In Polk County, seven voters who signed affidavits were in fact felons, and they are now being investigated by prosecutors.
Elections supervisors found plenty of reasons to doubt the DBT product. Several said they found people listed as felons though they were only convicted of misdemeanors, or their convictions had been withheld. The FDLE said it gave DBT data only on felons with confirmed convictions, though cases that were overturned on appeal may not be on the agency's records. However, the FDLE data did not provide conviction dates for nearly 5,000 suspected felons, records show.
Sometimes, even a perfect match isn't perfect. Take Floredia Walker of St. Petersburg, an employee of the state Department of Corrections who was told she couldn't vote -- she was a perfect match because a thief used her stolen driver license 15 years ago. And there could be some cases of mistaken identity. While researching one voter's complaint, DBT found four people in the United States named Robert Williams born on the same date.
Ironically, the state began using FDLE data because of inaccuracies found in prison and probation records maintained by the Department of Corrections. Because of these concerns, future felon purges will use data collected by a state association of court clerks, said Clay Roberts, director of the Division of Elections.
Why can't felons vote?
The felon purge has also highlighted the issue of whether felons should be allowed to vote. Florida is one of just a dozen states -- most of them in the South that bar felons from voting; most states automatically restore voting rights to criminals once they are released from prison or probation.
Black lawmakers in particular have pushed to change the law, saying it has a disproportionate effect on black voters (blacks account for 49 percent of felons convicted in the state). But a provision that would have restored felons' voting rights a few years after their release was dropped from the election reform bill Gov.
Jeb Bush signed this month.
Some say felons should be banned from voting, arguing that it's further punishment that should deter offenders. Others say those who break the law should not be allowed to help decide who makes the laws.
But Zara Hester, the Belle Glade woman convicted in 1972, doesn't see why she should be punished today for something that happened so long ago. "Voting is a beautiful privilege," she said. "If they are going to take that away, they shouldn't call it freedom."
Washington Bureau reporter Christine Xu contributed to this story.
Geeee,,,,,I wonder who felons will vote for??? <--rolling eyes
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