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Profile: Clay Roberts

Clay Roberts was a participant or observer in the following events:

Florida, already using controversial and error-ridden “purge lists” to remove tens of thousands of minority voters from the voting rolls (see 1998 and After), uses voting machines and voting procedures to disenfranchise eligible voters. The Florida elections system is grossly underfunded, resulting in the use of obsolete and error-prone machines (disproportionately used in counties with large minority populations), and elections officials lacking fundamental training and even information about their jobs. During most of 2000, county supervisors warn Tallahassee that Florida could expect an unprecedented number of voters on November 7, especially among the black voting community. But Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) and Division of Elections chief Clay Roberts, by their own subsequent testimony, fail to address the problem. Roberts tells Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho, “It’s not that bad.” Thusly on November 7, 2000, many polling places experience massive difficulties. An investigation by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) turns up thousands of voters who are turned away for a number of reasons, including but not limited to being on the purge lists. Some voters who registered are not listed on the voting rolls—many of whom were registered through NAACP efforts to register voters via the “motor voter” procedures (see May 20, 1993). County supervisors calling Tallahassee with questions and problems routinely find themselves unable to get through. Many precincts lack access to central voter rolls to verify questionable registrations. Some voters who are in line to vote at the 7:00 p.m. closing time are told to leave, even though the law mandates that any voter standing in line to vote can vote even if closing time occurs. Florida law also allows voters whose status is questionable to complete affidavit votes that will be counted later after their eligibility is confirmed, but many election workers know nothing of these procedures, and thusly many voters who are eligible to vote via affidavit are not given that opportunity. Many disabled voters find no procedures in place to allow them access to voting machines. Many precincts lack procedures to assist Spanish-speaking voters, including failing to provide bilingual ballots or bilingual poll workers. (The Voting Rights Act of 1965—see August 6, 1965—mandates that such provisions be made at every polling place without exception.) The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund later concludes that several thousand Hispanic voters are disenfranchised because of these failures. Black voters in Leon County complain that the Florida Highway Patrol set up a roadblock that denied them access to their polling place (see 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000); Highway Patrol authorities later admit the existence of the roadblock, but say that it was a routine vehicle inspection checkpoint.
Punch Card Voting - Florida generally uses two voting systems—the more sophisticated computer “optiscan” system, which features ballots where choices are made by “bubbling in” an oval with a pencil and then feeding into a scanner, and the obsolete “punch card” system, which uses “punch cards” where choices are made by a voter “punching” a hole in a card with a stylus and then feeding the card into a scanner. Counties with large African-American populations are disproportionate in having to use the obsolete punch card machines. In four of these counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Duval—over 100,000 votes are discarded due to problems with punching the holes correctly (see November 9, 2000). This total is more than half the discards in the entire state. Of the 19 precincts in the state with the highest rate of discard, 18 are majority-black. Seventy percent of black Floridian voters are forced to use the punch card machines, a percentage far higher than that of other ethnic groups. The NAACP later sues to force Florida to discard punch card machines entirely. The Florida government’s response to the punch-card disenfranchisement can perhaps be best summed up by a statement made by Republican House Speaker Tom Feeney, who responds to a question about the infamous “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach County (see November 9, 2000) by saying: “Voter confusion is not a reason for whining or crying or having a revote. It may be a reason to require literacy tests.” Literacy tests, a legacy of the Jim Crow era of massive voter discrimination, are unconstitutional (see 1896 and June 8, 1959). [Tapper, 3/2001; Nation, 4/24/2001]
Subsequent Investigation - A later investigation by the progressive news magazine The Nation will document widespread voter disenfranchisement efforts in Florida (see April 24, 2001).

Entity Tags: County of Palm Beach (Florida), County of Madison (Florida), County of Leon (Florida), County of Duval (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Clay Roberts, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), Florida Highway Patrol, Ion Sancho, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Tom Feeney, Linda Howell, Katherine Harris, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

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