Another election and another voting fiasco in Florida with another Bush involved, as Stuart Mackenzie reports.

Only last week Florida’s elections officials and a leading U.S. civil rights group finally settled a lawsuit that alleged the state systematically excluded thousands of minority voters from the 2000 presidential election, in which Dubya claimed the White House by just 537 Florida votes.

Despite spending $32 million to improve the state’s electoral system, this week’s gubernatorial primaries are shaping up as another farce.

“You guys have NO idea what a mess this has been,” state election monitor Mike Lindsey told Associated Press.

Man and machine both contributed to the problems: workers couldn’t start up new touch screen voting machines; ballot cards tore and couldn’t be read on optical scanning machines; technical problems delayed processing the electronic cartridges in the touch screen voting machines.

Several polling places opened late; some voters were wrongly turned away for not showing picture identification. In response to complaints polling was extended by two hours but that led to yet more confusion as workers at one precinct, who had not been told of the extension, held the door shut and cursed at voters.

The problems left the high profile contest between former Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno and Tampa lawyer Bill McBride for the Democratic nomination on a knife-edge on Wednesday night, with McBride leading by only 11,000 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast, and many votes remaining uncounted.

Fourteen of the state’s 67 counties reported voting problems, including six of the seven sued after the 2000 election.

In Miami-Dade Florida’s largest county nearly half of the ballots that were still uncounted on Wednesday were in predominately black neighbourhoods.

For Miami-Dade’s previous appearance in the media spotlight, we flash back to 1999 with the help of Michael Moore’s book on the presidential election, “Stupid White Men”.

In the summer of that year, Moore tells us, Katherine Harris who was both co-chair of Dubya’s presidential campaign and Florida’s secretary of state responsible for elections employed a firm of consultants with strong Republican ties, Database Technologies, to clean up the state’s electoral rolls. This included removing anyone “suspected” of being an ex-felon, who cannot vote in Florida.

That meant that the 31 per cent of all black men who have a past felony on their records were prevented from voting. The fact that most black Florida residents vote Democrat 90 percent of those who were allowed to vote in 2000 voted for Al Gore was pure coincidence.

In all 173,000 Florida residents were wiped from the rolls in Miami-Dade 66 percent of those removed were black.

Not content with relying on Florida’s own records, Harris and her department threw a further eight thousand off the rolls, based on a list of alleged ex-felons from another state who had since moved to Florida. Which state? Texas.

Ex-Governor Dubya’s officials were more than pleased to give brother Jeb’s officials a hand.

Unfortunately, the Texas list, like Florida’s records was full of errors.

Typical was one woman receiving a letter telling her she was a felon and wouldn’t be able to vote when not only did she have no criminal record but she was the elections supervisor in Madison County.

This all went unreported in the US media until the British Broadcasting Corporation uncovered the details, which then found their way on to the inside pages of some US newspapers.

In the polling day chaos, thousands of black Floridians were told at polling stations that they couldn’t vote. Complainants were told they should submit themselves to fingerprinting for positive identification, after which state officials would decide whether or not to reinstate them to the electoral roll after the election.

Remembering that Dubya won Florida by 527 votes, Moore lists other voting irregularities discovered by the media, including 680 questionable votes out of 2,490 cast overseas, of which:

344 had no evidence they were cast on or before Election Day.

183 were postmarked inside the US.

169 were from unregistered voters. 96 were note properly witnessed.

A post-election, vote-by-vote review of uncounted votes by Associated Press and seven other US news organisations found that Al Gore would have finished ahead by the barest of margins in a complete state-wide recount. But back to September 2002.

“The mess was the result of no planning, poor leadership, lack of ‘process ownership’ and passing the buck,” election monitor Mike Lindsey told his superiors.

With the finger pointing by Jeb and state county officials just beginning, Janet Reno was contemplating legal action. She could demand a recount or sue to overturn the results.

“She’s extremely upset about the disenfranchisement,” said Reno spokeswoman Nicole Harburger.

“People were not allowed their right to vote. … That’s unacceptable to her.” As another democratic election in Florida looks set to be decided in the courts, readers might be curious about the fate of former secretary of state, Katherine Harris.

She won the primary for a vacant Florida House seat in a safe Republican district.

Feedback to Stuart Mackenzie at href=”mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected]

Peter Fray

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