Black voters in Florida suffered bias in elections

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The Independent US

Black voters in the crucial state of Florida were discriminated against in last year's Presidential elections because of "injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency", according to an independent investigation.

Black voters in the crucial state of Florida were discriminated against in last year's presidential election because of "injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency", an independent investigation has concluded.

Black voters were 10 times more likely than whites to have their ballots rejected, a final draft of an inquiry by the American Commission on Civil Rights said.

The report criticises Florida's Republican Governor, Jeb Bush ­ brother of the President ­ though there is no "conclusive evidence" that he or other officials conspired to disenfranchise minority voters. The report reveals that there was a failure to educate voters about the now-notorious voting systems, and poorer counties had less efficient voting machines.

It also confirms something that was widely suspected at the time of November's election, namely that poor and minority voters ­ barriers kept some disabled voters from reaching the polling sites ­ had much less chance of having their vote counted than their better-off white counterparts. The report added that some Hispanic and Haitian voters were not provided with ballots in their native language, and there were no clear guidelines to protect the votes of eligible voters from being wrongly removed.

The commission will now ask the US Department of Justice and the Florida attorney general's office to investigate whether federal or state civil rights laws were broken.

The Democrats have always claimed that the black votes they lost as a result of such disenfranchisement helped cost them the election. Yesterday, a spokesman for the party in Florida said: "This is the worst possible scandal that you can have because it adds to the illegitimacy of the President of the United States.

"Two things strike us: the sheer horror that voting in the most advanced country in the world does not work, and the [behaviour of the] Governor. When these people were crying out for leadership, he was hiding."

The inquiry, which took six months to complete, says the problems were not isolated. It says: "The disenfranchisement was not isolated or episodic. State officials failed to fulfil their duties in a manner that would prevent this disenfranchisement. Despite the closeness of the election, it was the widespread voter disenfranchisement ... that was the extraordinary feature in the Florida election."

Florida proved to be the crucial state in the election. An effort by the Democrats to have a series of recounts was ultimately unsuccessful and the presidency was, in effect, handed to George Bush by the US Supreme Court, which ruled to halt those recounts that were under way.

While the election process in Florida has been a matter of scrutiny since November, the commission's inquiry is the most wide-ranging to date. Its 167-page report was compiled by an investigation that included a three-day hearing, interviews with more than 100 witnesses and a review of 118,000 documents.