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In a speech calling for an expansion of voting rights, Hillary Clinton attacked what she described as efforts to restrict voting by Republican governors thinking of running for president, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
"In Florida, when Jeb Bush was governor, state authorities conducted a deeply flawed purge of voters before the presidential election in 2000. Thankfully, in 2004 a plan to purge even more voters was headed off," she said in a speech at Texas Southern University on June 4, 2015.
We decided to look back at the 2000 and 2004 voter purges in Florida to see if her description was accurate.
The 2000 purge
In 1997, thousands of corrupt votes were cast in a Miami mayoral election, prompting state lawmakers to approve election legislation in 1998. The bill went into effect without the signature of Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat. (A spokesman for Chiles at the time told the Miami Herald that he objected to a provision in the law related to absentee ballots.)
This was the legislation that eventually led to the 2000 purge.
The 1998 law provided $4 million to weed out dead people and felons from the state's voter rolls. So the Department of State hired Boca Raton-based DTS Technologies to produce a list of possible felons. (In Florida, a felon couldn’t vote unless he or she underwent a cumbersome restoration process overseen by the governor and Cabinet.)
The company warned the state that their matches would produce many false positives, but state officials wanted DTS to use broad parameters, which meant more felons off the rolls. In August 1998, Secretary of State Sandra Mortham announced that about 50,000 felons and 17,000 dead people were on the voter rolls.
Almost immediately, questions arose about the accuracy of the list.
Twenty county election supervisors decided to ignore the state’s directive, because they found the data unreliable, including a Marion County elections supervisor who found her own name on the list.
Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho said he received a list of about 700 names before the 2000 election.
"We did a check on it and could only find 30-some felons," Sancho said. "We cleared 94 percent of the list."
But not all counties did their own research on the "deeply flawed" list, he said. "If you went to vote on Nov. 7, and an official said you are on the list, if you tried to argue you could be arrested, and you were told so," he said.
Ultimately, it was Mortham’s successor, Katherine Harris, elected in 1998, who oversaw the 2000 purge along with a state elections lawyer Emmett Mitchell. (In 2003, Florida’s elected secretary of state became an appointed position.)
After the election, news organizations and other groups tried to figure out how many people had been denied the right to vote. But the numbers varied widely — though the reported estimates were higher than George W. Bush’s 537-margin in the 2000 presidential election. A 2001 Palm Beach Post investigation asserted that at least 1,100 eligible voters were wrongly purged. Other reports put the figure much higher.
The NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union sued the state in 2000, and the settlement required the state to run its old felon lists with new standards.
At a hearing before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in January 2001, Bush placed the blame for the state’s woes on election officials. But a divided commission concluded that many Florida leaders were responsible, including Bush, for the "unjust removal of disproportionate numbers of African American voters."
A week later, Bush along with the Cabinet implemented the commission’s recommendation to make the clemency process easier for ex-felons seeking to restore their voting rights.
Botched purge in 2004
The state compiled a new list of 47,000 potential felons before the 2004 election. But after a lawsuit forced the state to make the list publicly available in July 2004, the Miami Herald reported that more than 2,000 of those names -- many of them black Democrats -- should not have been on the list, because their rights to vote were restored through the state's clemency process.
A separate issue was that Hispanics made up 0.1 percent of the list, in a state where nearly one in five residents were Hispanic.
The state’s criminal database didn’t have "Hispanic" as a category, but voter registration rolls did have it, which created a discrepancy.
Less than two weeks after the list was released, the state scrapped the entire list, saying it was flawed.
Not including Hispanic felons on the list "was an oversight and a mistake. … And we accept responsibility, and that's why we're pulling it back," Bush said at the time.
But even before they tossed the list, state officials knew it was flawed. A May 2 internal memo detailed a half dozen missed deadlines, failed software programs, repeated miscues and personnel problems.
Clinton said, "In Florida, when Jeb Bush was governor, state authorities conducted a deeply flawed purge of voters before the presidential election in 2000" and "in 2004 a plan to purge even more voters was headed off."
Clinton omits that this effort started before Bush was in office, though it did continue under his watch. In 2004, the state scrapped another purge after officials admitted errors.
The statement is accurate but needs additional information. So we rate it Mostly True.https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/f3460a63-5e8e-495c-9b16-f7881257edc0
CSPAN, Hillary Clinton’s voting rights speech, June 4, 2015
NPR, "Returning to her roots, Clinton lays out proposal to expand voting," June 4, 2015
U.S. Civil Rights Commission, "voting irregularities in florida during the 2000 election executive summary," and full report, 2001
Florida Statutes, Committee Substitute for SB 1402, 1998
Miami Herald, "Compromise vote reform package OKD," (Accessed in Nexis) April 28, 1998
Miami Herald, "Vote reform bill is law without Chiles signature," May 22, 1998
Miami Herald, "Dade voting rolls filled with felons, dead people," (Accessed in Nexis) Aug. 19, 1998
Associated Press, "Thousands of Fla. voters mistakenly identified as felons," (Accessed in Nexis) June 23, 2000
Miami Herald, "State’s anti-fraud efforts failed," (Accessed in Nexis) Dec. 10, 2000
Miami Herald, "Bush task force to seek remedy," (Accessed in Nexis) Dec. 10, 2000
Miami Herald, "Governor refuses blame for Florida election problems," (Accessed in Nexis) Jan. 12, 2001
Miami Herald, "Firm: state told felon voter list may cause errors," Feb. 2001
Miami Herald, "Florida leaders chastised over voter panel: growing problems ignored," (Accessed in Nexis) June 2001
Tampa Bay Times, "Officials wary of voter purge," May 19, 2004
New York Times, "Florida List for Purge of Voters Proves Flawed," July 10, 2004
The Guardian, "Jeb Bush blamed for unfair Florida election," June 6, 2001
Orlando Sentinel, "20,000 felons may join voter rolls," (Accessed in Nexis) June 18, 2004
Miami Herald, "Thousands of eligible voters are on felon list," )Accessed in Nexis) July 2, 2004
Tampa Bay Times, "Florida scraps felon voter list," July 11, 2004
Miami Herald, "Florida knew of voter list problems," (Accessed in Nexis) Aug. 1, 2004
PolitiFact, "Bill Nelson compares Rick Scott voter purge with 2000 attempt," June 5, 2012
PolitiFact, "Charlie Crist says Jeb Bush extended early voting," Nov. 8, 2012
Palm Beach Post, "Architect behind Florida felon purge behind Florida’s new limits," Oct. 28, 2012
Interview, Matt Gorman, former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise PAC spokesman, June 5, 2015
Interview, Josh Schwerin, Hillary Clinton spokesman, June 5, 2015
Interview, Ion Sancho, Leon County Supervisor of Elections, June 8, 2015
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