|Firm: State told felon voter list may cause errors|
Mistaken-identity potential didn't deter officials, executive testifies
By ANDREA ROBINSON
The federal panel investigating Florida voter discrimination complaints on Friday questioned elections supervisors and a company executive about how a voter ``purge'' list caused problems at precincts last November.
Database Technologies executive George Bruder testified that his company was not obligated to verify the names on the exclusion list were accurate. Under state law, he said, that was left up to the county supervisors.
Bruder testified before the eight-member U.S. Commission on Civil Rights which was in Miami. The panel also heard from voters who cited problems in being able to vote in November's presidential election and the election supervisors for Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
More than 30 witnesses -- an assortment of voters, poll workers and county officials from South Florida -- gave sworn testimony.
The hearing is the second -- and likely last -- inquiry by the panel into how the state ran the election. Commission Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry said the panel was expected to release a report with recommendations in March.
Commissioners seemed particularly interested in the list created by Database Technologies that ultimately caused some voters to be mistakenly removed from voter rolls.
In 1998, the state division of elections awarded DBT $4.2 million to provide the state with a list of names of felons and deceased people who should be purged from the voting polls.
Under questioning from panel members, DBT executive George Bruder said Florida election officials were told in advance that the limited criteria assigned by the state to create the database could create ``false-positives.'' However, particularly in instances where common names are involved, those records may refer to two different people.
Bruder said under the contract, DBT was not obligated to verify the names on the exclusion list were accurate. Under state law, he said, that was left up to the county supervisors.
``What we did was as per specifications of the division of elections,'' Bruder said. ``They wanted false positives on search parameters to cast as broad a net as possible.''
The Herald reported in December during an investigation of felons who voted that the state's 67 elections supervisors were told of the limitations, that matches were graded as ``possible'' and ``probable,'' and that the responsibility of verifying the accuracy of the matches was theirs.
Since Social Security numbers weren't required on voter registration forms until recently, the matches were sometimes limited to names, gender and birth dates.
Commissioner Christopher Edley, a Harvard law school professor, speaking aloud to the downtown Miami audience, questioned why the state would pay so much money for a database and not specify accuracy of information.
``If DBT doesn't feel it had an obligation to do it, there's a disconnect,'' he said.
Commission chairwoman Berry later criticized Bruder's testimony.
``DBT had a duty to tell the state that this is not how to do things,'' she said.
The exclusion list was used by several county elections chiefs, including Miami-Dade's supervisor David Leahy, in a massive effort under which the state sought to clean up inactive lists and restore integrity to voting rolls.
Leahy, who also testified Friday, said he thought it was mandatory he use DBT's list. But the list was not used in Palm Beach or Broward counties because elections officials there suspected there were too many incorrect names on the exclusionary list.
Also Friday, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach voters testified to the panel about the problems they encountered at the polls, which ranged from faulty ballot design to precincts inaccessible to the disabled.
Joy Cohen of Broward did get to vote -- but only after a worker lifted her wheelchair up some stairs.
``I can't tell you how embarrassed I was,'' she said. ``I worked hard for civil rights and the one time I needed it, it wasn't there for me.''
Also on Friday, Dade and Broward voters spoke of arriving at polls only to find their names were not on lists. Palm Beach residents recounted the horrors of realizing they may have mistakenly voted for Reform candidate Patrick Buchanan because of faulty ballot design.
One woman testified she requested a replacement ballot, which is required by law, but was refused.
Meanwhile, many state Republicans are grumbling on whether the civil rights panel will render a fair decision because of its mostly Democratic composition.
Berry, an independent who was reappointed by former president Clinton in 1999, scoffed at that notion, saying that the commission's political makeup constantly changes because of members' staggered terms.
Berry said the lineup will change when the terms of two commission members who were appointed by Democrats expire in November. President Bush will appoint their successors, she said.