Seeing red in Florida

Four years after the biggest voting debacle in U.S. history, many suspect that GOP officials in the crucial state are planning dirty tricks again.

By Farhad Manjoo
Published October 16, 2004 3:42AM (UTC)
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"I'll tell you an interesting story about lawyer recruitment," says Stephen Zack, the smooth-talking Miami attorney leading John Kerry's army of election lawyers in Florida. "When I first started to do this a few months ago, I sent out an e-mail to 50 lawyers I'd worked with around the state asking for help," he said. "I got 65 yes answers, from 50 e-mails. They'd sent it on to friends saying, 'I got this e-mail. You ought to get involved.'" With a typical pro-bono query, Zack estimates, he might get a 10 percent reply rate. But this isn't just any pro-bono job. Zack needs smart attorneys to work on the thorny legal questions that could arise on Election Day, amidst the tight election returns everyone expects in this state. Zack won't say exactly how many lawyers he's recruited to work for Kerry on Nov. 2, but local media have reported the number at around 2,000. "There isn't a day that I don't walk down the street here in downtown Miami that I don't have a lawyer come up to me and volunteer," he says.

Lawyers are lining up to help Kerry in Florida for the same reason Kerry hired Zack before Election Day rather than after. Memories of the 2000 recount disaster and of widespread voting irregularities persist, as do fears that something similar could happen, or is already happening, again. Zack himself works daily amid reminders of his last brush with Florida election law. He decorated his office at the Miami branch of Boies, Schiller and Flexner with what he calls "scars" from the 2000 legal battles. In one corner, there's a courtroom sketch artist's representation of Zack cross-examining a witness during one of the many courtroom battles that occurred in that 36-day national drama. Below that, there are framed front-page articles from the New York Times and from Florida newspapers recounting his legal deftness. In another corner sits a note from Al Gore, thanking Zack for his work.


Zack is cagey about what his team is preparing for in the case of a defeat on Nov. 2 and says he fondly hopes that "everything will go very smoothly and there will be no need for lawyers." But if Zack goes looking for problems on Nov. 2, there will certainly be no shortage of voting irregularities in the state that he might contest, and many here see a legal fight heading this way that could be just as nasty as the last one.

Legal battles have already broken out all across the state. In the past week, civil rights groups sued state officials to demand that they count thousands of registration forms on which people had forgotten to check a box certifying that they were U.S. citizens. Two suits on the status of provisional ballots -- failsafe ballots given to people whose names can't be found on registration rolls -- are pending. And on Monday, a federal judge is scheduled to hear a case over the legality of paperless touch-screen voting systems. Much has changed in Florida since the last presidential election -- punch cards have been replaced with touch-screens, some laws have been rewritten and a great deal of money has been spent to improve election procedures -- but to the chagrin of many activists here, much more has remained the same.

It wasn't supposed to happen again. This is the refrain you hear up and down the state this year, from elections officials, voting-rights advocates, civil rights experts and ordinary voters fed up with the reputation for electoral clumsiness that Florida has held since 2000. Or, more precisely, the chant goes, It wasn't supposed to happen again -- but it is. Like meteorologists nervously surveying the Gulf Coast during hurricane season, elections experts who've studied procedures in Florida now see a slow-motion disaster approaching the state. The weather here isn't pleasant: You've got partisan and/or incompetent officials, new and controversial voting technology, extremely litigious candidates, a flood of new voters, and an unbearably close race, with 27 electoral votes -- and the presidency -- hanging in the balance.


At the eye of the storm is Glenda Hood, Florida's secretary of state and the chief official responsible for running elections. Hood, a Republican who was mayor of Orlando in the 1990s and whom Gov. Jeb Bush appointed in 2003, has been criticized not only by Democrats but also by independent observers for her exceedingly partisan approach to managing elections. Her critics note that politically, Hood is firmly in George W. Bush's camp; she was a Bush-Cheney elector in 2000. Jimmy Carter has urged Jeb Bush to replace her. The New York Times has called her Katherine Harris II. Hood's critics point to a string of decisions that favor Republicans or, at the very least, undermine voters' confidence in the fairness of Florida elections. Even though Florida law requires a manual recount of ballots in close elections, Hood has issued election rules barring such a count for electronic machines. After a judge ruled in early September that Ralph Nader's name should not appear on the Florida ballot, Hood ordered local officials to add him to absentee ballots anyway (the courts later reinstated Nader).

In matters small and large, on questions over registration procedures or voter identification or interpretations of Florida's abstruse election code, Hood has ruled according to a consistent pattern, her opponents charge -- she's attempted at every turn to keeps voters off the rolls and away from the polls, a gambit that clearly benefits Republicans. Nowhere was this more clear than in her design, this spring, of a list of ex-felons to be "purged" from Florida's voting rolls. Hood, whose office did not respond to numerous inquiries from Salon, initially tried to keep the felon list secret; only after media organizations sued for access to the list and discovered that it was riddled with errors and included a large number of African-Americans and only a handful of Hispanic (read: Republican) felons was she forced to scrap the list.

"I believe that what is occurring in Florida is purposeful," says Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat whose district includes Palm Beach and Broward counties, areas hardest hit by the 2000 fiasco. Hood's maneuvers in the state are not a matter of mere ineptitude, Wexler says. "This isn't one incompetent error -- it's five or six. It's impossible to believe that Jeb Bush is that incompetent. This is a purposeful strategy."


Bobbie Brinegar, president of the Miami-Dade chapter of the League of Women Voters and a fiercely nonpartisan advocate for election reform, is even more blunt. "There's very little chance we'll have a fair election in Florida," she says. "Very little chance." It seems crass to compare the chaos of Nov. 7, 2000, to the carnage of Sept. 11, 2001, but in the elections business the comparison has a certain resonance. The events in Florida in 2000 were transformational; in the aftermath of that debacle, election reform advocates pointed to all that went wrong as proof that Americans had ignored, for too long, the mechanics of their democracy. Nov. 7 was a wake-up call, and afterward reform advocates were given license to think big, to consider all options for making elections fairer, more equitable. These would include small, obvious, pressing reforms -- getting rid of punch-card voting machines, for instance. But bigger changes were also envisioned after 2000. How should states manage their registration rolls? Should jurisdictions advocate absentee balloting, and early voting? In Florida, and in the half dozen other states that impose a lifetime voting ban on people convicted of felonies, there were calls to rethink these laws, or at least to alter the clearly shoddy ways in which they'd been implemented in 2000. Visionaries even saw far-reaching initiatives taking hold: Should we consider instant-runoff voting? And could we please, finally, rid ourselves of the Electoral College? For all that was proposed, however, remarkably little has been achieved. Many of the improvements in Florida, as in the rest of the nation, were cosmetic; lawmakers moved quickly to make changes, but their reforms were often quick fixes. In Florida, where the election mess had been blamed on punch-card voting machines, officials looked for a technological solution to the state's democratic woes. In 2001, lawmakers here banned punch-card voting machines. Many local officials then had a choice to make -- should they go with optical scan ballots (the fill-in-the-bubble paper ballots that are counted by machines), or should they install paperless electronic touch-screen machines? Officials in smaller counties chose optical scan, while most of the larger counties chose the electronic systems. In the upcoming election, slightly more than half of Florida's voters will find touch-screen machines at the polls, while the rest will vote on opti-scan. It wasn't long after the state adopted touch-screen systems that the machines proved to be just as troublesome as punch cards. On Sept. 10, 2002, Miami-Dade County, the state's largest, used electronic machines for the first time in its primary election. Election Day was a disaster, mostly because the voting systems, made by Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., failed to start up on time, resulting in delays of several hours before some precincts were opened for voting. The main contest in the race pitted Janet Reno, the former U.S. attorney general, against Bill McBride for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The initial count showed Reno losing by more than 8,000 votes -- but as officials checked and rechecked the machines over a process of weeks, they "found" thousands of additional votes for Reno. Eventually, Reno's margin of defeat was determined to be within the legal limit allowing her to challenge the results -- but by the time all the votes were found, she'd missed the deadline to challenge. In the aftermath of the Sept. 10 fiasco in Miami-Dade, voting-rights activists from all over the county got together to form the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition. Amidst all the turmoil in this state, the group is the best example of public democracy Florida has to offer -- a rebellious, fearless and fiercely nonpartisan citizens' group that aims to bring accuracy, if not honor, back to Florida elections. Every Wednesday evening for the past two years, the group, composed of two dozen or so lawyers, civil rights experts, poll workers, labor leaders and ordinary citizens, has met in a dreary third-floor conference room at the Florida ACLU. Their meetings are intense, sometimes fractious, but also, surprisingly, a lot of fun. In the middle of an intricate discussion on the complexities of election law at one recent get-together, giggles broke out when someone sketched a sign on a yellow legal pad and held it up for the room to see. The solution to Florida's election woes? "GLENDA MUST GO!" the sign said. Voting rights activists in Florida responded to the Sept. 10 primary by calling for what they said were practical fixes to the problems they saw with touch screens. Specifically, members of the coalition asked Hood to consider a "manual recount" procedure for touch-screen systems. Most touch-screen machines produce elaborate internal logs documenting everything that happens to that machine in the course of a day of voting -- the time it was turned on and off, the mode it was in during the election, the number of voters who used the machine, and possibly much more information, including printouts of each ballot cast. Voting machine firms have always touted these internal logs as a security feature. So in the event of a question over an electronic machine's results, reformers asked, why couldn't election officials look at the system's internal logs to determine if the machine functioned correctly during the race? Examining machine logs would seem to be a sensible safeguard against election mischief -- but for reasons that remain unclear, Hood decided that officials should never consult these internal logs. To carry out her edict, she called on the Florida Legislature to pass a law that would have prohibited manual recounts on touch-screen machines. In response, the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition mounted a campaign to defeat the bill, and after a groundswell of public support, the bill failed. But in April, after the legislative defeat, Hood quietly issued an administrative election rule -- which did not need to be approved by the Legislature -- to achieve exactly what the defeated bill would have achieved, the prohibition of manual recounts on voting machines. To her critics, Hood's actions on the manual recount issue epitomize her general attitude toward election law; she rules high-handedly, they say, without regard for public sentiment. In 2000 and in 2002, Florida experienced massive election failures; clearly, these events would have caused voters to lose confidence in Florida's election plan. But Hood failed to grasp this "post-Nov. 7" public mood, the need for greater trust in the voting equipment, says Martha Mahoney, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law and a member of the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition. Instead of moving to reassure voters by mandating closer study of touch-screen systems, Hood moved to limit the ways in which elections officials could scrutinize election results. Indeed, despite a couple of years' worth of examples from around the country showing that touch-screen systems are just as fallible as other bits of modern technology (including the example of Florida's 2002 primary), Hood has bizarrely maintained that the voting systems in Florida are flawless. "The track record shows that since 2002, when electronic voting equipment's been used in Florida, that we've delivered successful elections," she told CNN recently. "There have not been problems with the equipment that's been used." Jeb Bush, too, claims that the election equipment in the state is perfect. Jacob DiPietre, a spokesman for Bush, told Salon that the chaos that Miami-Dade experienced in 2002 was the result of "human error" -- the election problems were caused by poll workers, not by machines. This theory is contradicted by independent reports of what occurred in that election. For instance, the Miami-Dade County Inspector General has documented (PDF) the many and various ways in which the ES&S systems failed in the 2002 primary, noting in particular the systems' inability to start up on time. Despite this evidence, Bush maintains that the only people who question Florida's voting machines are Democrats, and they only do it to boost voter turnout. "Every time that liberal Democrats say that the election is in question, every vote should count, it is an effort to try to mobilize their base and that's it," Bush told the Miami Herald in July. "And it should be discounted, deeply, because it is purely politics." Martha Mahoney, though, points out that there are many Republicans who favor stricter scrutiny of electronic machines; counting every vote is not a dream only of Democrats. In fact, the Know Your Vote Counts Act of 2004, a proposal in the U.S. House to require voter-verifiable paper trails in electronic voting systems, counts among its co-sponsors dozens of Republicans, including five from Florida. One of them is Katharine Harris, the Bushes' former vote-counting consigliere, who was elected to Congress in 2002. In supporting a paper trail in voting machines, is Harris trying, as Bush suggests, to mobilize Democrats? That's hard to believe. After Hood issued her rule prohibiting recounts in electronic machines, the Florida chapter of the ACLU sued her, challenging her authority to issue such an order. Hood lost the suit, and was forced to rewrite the rule; now, a revised rule governing recounts on electronic machines could come down from Hood's office anytime before Election Day. Activists aren't sure, though, that the new rule will be any more fair than the rule Hood first devised -- still, says Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, it's better for activists to be waiting for a possibly unfair rule before the election than to find out about unfair rules on the day of the election, which is what occurred in 2000. That's the main difference, he says, between this presidential election and the last one -- voting-rights advocates are prepared this time. "We've been working up to our eyeballs on preventive action," he says. "We're in a battle over the rules of the game. The game is going to be decided by who makes the rules of the game -- who decides who gets purged, who's permitted to register, whether the machines are going to be audited and reliable, will they have the capacity to do a recount in case a recount is necessary, are the votes going to be counted or thrown out." This is the battle that's been raging in Florida during the past few months. Will the rules of the game be permissive, tending to enfranchise voters rather than disenfranchise them, looking to provide greater assurance that all votes will been counted rather than less -- or will the rules go the other way? A couple of weeks before Election Day, the answer is still unclear. Hood is currently the subject of several legal challenges over her elections procedures. Rep. Wexler has sued her in federal court to demand that machines in the state be equipped with voter-verifiable paper trails. In the case, which begins on Monday, it's conceivable that a judge will order the state to institute some kind of remedy -- such as paper ballots for voters who don't trust the touch-screens -- at the polls this year.

Another legal challenge has to do with "provisional ballots," which are the ballots voters are allowed to cast in case their names can't be found on the rolls at their polling place on Election Day. Provisional ballots, which were required by the Help America Vote Act, the federal election reform law that President Bush signed in 2002, are meant to alleviate one of the most common problems elections experts see in voting, voters being turned away due to faulty registration rolls. Now, when a poll worker can't find a voter's name in the registration database on Election Day, the voter can cast a ballot provisionally; the state determines later whether to count the ballot. But Florida, unlike most states, has adopted an extremely rigid standard in deciding whether to count a provisional ballot -- a voter has to have cast his ballot at his home precinct in order to have his provisional ballot counted. Simon, of the ACLU, points out that this will cause many votes to go uncounted this year; going to the wrong precinct could be a fairly common mistake voters make. "Miami-Dade alone has added 130 new precincts, and what if you didn't get your card in the mail that told you where to go?" he asks. "Or what if you live in the part of the state that's been hit by hurricanes, and they moved your polling place or it had to be replaced at the last minute?" Just because you go to the wrong precinct, Simons asks, why should your vote for president or senator not be counted? But in Florida, these ballots won't count. In August's primary election, about 2,000 voters cast provisional ballots, and only half of them were counted, according to the Orlando Sentinel.


The outcome of these lawsuits will likely determine the rules of the Florida election game. And if Glenda Hood wins, many Democrats in the state fear, the outcome of the presidential election in Florida could be certain from the start.

The most contentious fight over the rules of the election in Florida occurred during the spring and summer, when Bush and Hood attempted to push through what critics call the racist, error-prone list of names of alleged ex-felons to be disenfranchised at the polls this year. The felon purge list has special sensitivity in Florida. In the 2000 election, tens of thousands of voters, most of them African-Americans, were erroneously included on the list. Numerous investigations of the irregularities on the list, including the first exposé of black voter disenfranchisement in Florida by investigative journalist Greg Palast in Salon as well as the U.S. Commission on Civil rights, have shown that many of the people on the 2000 felon list weren't felons, and were possibly, and probably, model citizens; their only crime was having a name similar to someone else who'd once committed a felony. The Commission on Civil Rights placed blame for the errors squarely on Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris, who it said failed to instruct local elections officials to "protect eligible voters from being erroneously purged from the voter registration rolls." The 2000 list, as it was structured, almost surely cost Gore the election. Since African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and since the list was disproportionately composed of African-Americans, it's reasonable to assume that many of those wrongly purged -- about 20,000 people -- would have voted for Gore. Instead, they were disenfranchised, and Bush squeaked by with a 537-vote margin.

According to Florida election law, people who've been convicted of felonies are permanently barred from voting, even after they've served their time, unless they're granted a formal clemency from the governor. State officials have always maintained that their felon lists are just an attempt to enforce Florida law, and any errors are the result of computer glitches and other malfunctions, and aren't intentional. In 2001, though, the NAACP sued the state for disenfranchising blacks, and in response the state agreed to be much stricter in the methods it uses for drawing up its felon list. The process outlined in the state's agreement with the NAACP goes roughly like this: The state's Division of Elections first collects the names of all felons from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's central felon database. In order to create a purge list, the Division of Elections matches the names on the FDLE's felon list with names in Election Division's statewide voter-registration database; in order to prevent the false matches that occurred in 2000, the names must match in several fields, including address, Social Security number, date of birth and race. The Division of Elections then runs a similar process using a list of felons who've been granted clemency -- these names are removed from the purge list, since they're eligible to vote.


What's left, after all these processes, is a purge list of thousands of people whose names should be struck from the Florida rolls. Elections in Florida are not run in a centralized way, however; Glenda Hood's office has limited powers in purging voters from the registration database. Instead, state elections officials periodically send updated purge lists to each of Florida's 67 county election officials, and it's these local officials who are charged with contacting voters to let them know they've been purged. On May 5, Ed Kast, who then headed the state's Division of Elections under Hood, sent a memo to local elections officials notifying them of the new 2004 purge list. The list contained almost 48,000 names. "You must follow the notification procedure" to let voters know they may be purged, Kast told elections officials in the memo.

Given Florida's history of flawed lists, civil rights groups demanded that the new list be made public, but the state, citing voters' right to privacy, said that the list had to be kept secret. In a May 12 memo to local elections officials, Kast wrote that the only groups that were allowed to see the lists were political parties and candidates, who would presumably use the lists to determine election strategy. While the list was officially "secret," though, many rights groups did manage to get a peek at it. The Florida ACLU arranged for the Green Party of Florida to hire the group as legal counsel. As the Green Party's attorneys, the ACLU was then given access to the purge list. Meanwhile, attorneys at the Brennan Center for Justice, a civil rights advocacy project at the New York University School of Law, managed to get copies of the list as part of discovery in a related legal action they'd been pursuing.

What the civil rights groups saw of this secret list alarmed them. "At first it was more of a kind of investigative journalism than law," says Jessie Allen, an attorney at the Brennan Center. "We were piecing this together -- 'Look, it looks like 20,000 people are missing here from the clemency database, and some of those people are missing for the following reasons, and others are missing for these reasons ... .'" What the Brennan Center discovered was that thousands of people who'd been granted clemency had never been included in Florida's clemency list because the state lacked a few details about them, such as their Social Security numbers or dates of birth. These people's voting rights had been formally restored, but the state consciously chose to keep them off the list in case other felons who shared their names were possibly misidentified as having received clemency, Allen explains. In other words, the purge list was drawn up as expansively as possible; in order to prevent the small chance that some people ineligible to vote might cast a vote, the state decided to keep thousands who were eligible to vote off the rolls. "The philosophy was, 'When in doubt, keep them out,'" Allen says.


One of these people kept out was Sam Heyward, a 45-year-old African-American man in Tallahassee. When he was 22, Heyward purchased furniture that he says he knew was stolen; in 1981, he was convicted of this petty-sounding crime, and he served about a year in a work camp. Since then, Heyward says, he's lived a clean life. Today, he works at a local church, and while he professes remorse for what he did when he was younger, he says he also knows that he should be allowed to vote. And he's right. In 1986, Heyward was granted clemency by the governor, and he's voted in every major election since the late 1980s. "I've never had a problem voting," he says, even in 2000. But in early summer, Heyward received a call from Andrew Gillum, a Tallahassee city commissioner who had access to the secret list, and whose aide, a friend of Heyward's from church, recognized Heyward's name. "I was shocked," Heyward says. "I've got my papers showing my rights were restored -- and now right here in 2004 my name's on this list." In response, Heyward went to the local media, encouraging others who'd presumed they'd been granted clemency to try to determine whether they'd been placed on the purge list, too. In July, Heyward also testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "I've been urging folks, 'Don't take this for granted.'"

Shortly after the purge list was issued, CNN sued Hood for access, and on July 1, a Florida state court judge ordered Hood to release the list. The very next day, the Miami Herald reported that after inspecting the purge list it had quickly determined that it included the names of 2,100 people whose voting rights had been previously been restored through formal clemency. Then, on Sept. 7, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that of the 47,763 names on the list, only 61 were classified as Hispanics. The next day, the New York Times amplified these concerns, explaining in detail that the errors in the list were systematic -- that is, there were specific problems in the list-matching process that excluded people who'd identified themselves as Hispanic. According to Jim McAvoy, a spokesman for Accenture, the contracting firm that helped the state with the software to create the purge lists, the problem arose because the FDLE's felon database and the state's registration database classified Hispanics differently. The felon database identified Hispanics as being of the race "white" whose ethnicity was "Hispanic," while the state's voter-registration database identified them as Hispanic and had no field for ethnicity. Because the software looked for strict matches between the race field in the two databases, many Hispanic names in the felon database never matched with records in the registration database, and Hispanics were therefore far less likely to be included on the purge list. In Florida, Cubans make up the largest bloc of Hispanics, and Cubans tend to vote Republican.

The New York Times story was published on a Saturday; that afternoon, Hood's office arranged an emergency press conference and announced that it was scrapping the purge list due to what Hood called "unintentional and unforeseen" errors. But were the errors having to do with Hispanic voter classification really unintentional and unforeseen? McAvoy, of Accenture, says that his company was not at fault. He explains that Accenture had no way of knowing that the two lists -- the felon list from the FDLE and the voter-registration list from the Division of Elections -- each identified Hispanics in fundamentally incompatible ways. That's because the state, he says, did not provide his company with the entire FDLE felon list; Accenture was never shown that the felon list included an extra ethnicity category for identifying Hispanics, he said.

There's reason to believe, though, that Hood's office should have known of such a problem. In the late 1990s, Database Technologies (DBT), the Florida company that was then charged with drawing up the felon purge list, notified the state of the dangers of matching by race, according to Chuck Jones, a spokesman for Choicepoint, which now owns DBT. "DBT informed the state that many of the lists that were being used to develop a list of potential voters to purge did not include Hispanic as a separate category," Jones says. "And on other lists, Hispanic individuals, being left with no appropriate selection, were categorizing themselves as white. So DBT advised the state, 'Don't use race as an identifying category.'" This warning was given before Hood took office, but Jones says that some of the personnel in the office then still work there now. Salon sent Hood a set of detailed questions regarding the processes used to draw up the felon list, but we were ignored.


Was Hood's felon list borne of a mere glitch, or was it a partisan effort to disenfranchise a large Democratic voting bloc? Civil rights advocates in Florida are usually willing to give state officials the benefit of the doubt in such matters; Florida certainly has its share of inept elections officers, and whenever there's some kind of problem it's always quite possible that the disaster occurred because someone just -- innocently -- screwed up royally. But not in this case, many say. "As soon as the newspapers got the list, they found all these names" of people who shouldn't have been on there, Martha Mahoney points out. State officials should just as easily have been able to spot those errors.

"I think there are a lot of election problems in Florida that are the result of incompetence," Howard Simon, of the ACLU, says. "I'm not sure this story fits into that category. As much as I avoid being seduced by conspiratorial theories, it's hard not to think that this area -- the area in which people would be purged, in which a disproportionate number of African-Americans would be purged --- it's hard not to arrive at the conclusion that the cavalier attitude of elections officials in using a list two election cycles in a row which they were warned was defective was not in part dictated by impermissible partisan interests."

Asked about the possibility that Hood had drawn up the felon list in such a way as to exclude Democrats on purpose, a spokesman for Jeb Bush reacted sarcastically. "Are you saying that felons are Democrats?" he asked. Then, when it was pointed out that the state had excluded many of the possible Republican felons, he explained away the problem as simply a glitch.

Blacks in the state don't see it that way, however. Sam Heyward, the Tallahassee voter whose name was included in the purge list, says that he believes there "must have been some other motive," whether racist or merely partisan, to explain the state's behavior. William McCormick, the president of the Fort Lauderdale branch of the NAACP, says the list "violated the ethics of democracy -- it was incomplete, imprecise and incorrect. How could you produce something that sensitive with such a profound impact and not make sure it had been validated? They were trying for disenfranchisement, and someone did it on purpose." Yet at the same time, many blacks in the state said they're not intimidated by the state's efforts -- they're emboldened. After what happened in 2000, "now we're coming for revenge," McCormick says. "They're going to see the greatest turnout they've ever seen. And I guarantee that every ballot cast in Broward County is going to be counted -- over my dead body they won't. I'm not going to be intimidated, swayed, threatened away from voting. I guarantee you they're going to be fired."


McCormick's prediction may indeed be right. Florida's voter registration deadline was Monday, Oct. 4, and in the weeks leading up to that day, jurisdictions across the state reported surges in registrations over previous years. At least a few locations have indicated huge upswings in the number of Democratic voters in particular. In Miami-Dade, for instance, there were 150,000 new registrants this year, according to Seth Kaplan, a spokesman for the county's election department. In 2000, for comparison, there were only 58,000 new registrants, and they were split between Democrats and Republicans roughly equally. But this year, Democrats account for twice as many new voters as Republicans; as of September, about 40 percent of the new registrants in Miami-Dade identified themselves as Democrats, while only 20 percent called themselves Republicans.

It's unclear if this trend is reflected in other parts of the state; metropolitan South Florida is known to be a Democratic stronghold, after all. But if it is true, perhaps the trend illustrates just what McCormick says -- the previously disenfranchised thousands in Florida are coming for revenge. That would be, says Rep. Wexler, the most fitting end for the partisan officials who rule democracy here. "Vote the rascals out," he says. "Go and vote George W. Bush out of office. That is the best response to the dilatory and unfair ... strategies and practices of Jeb Bush."

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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