Justice to File Suit Over 2000 Voting


.c The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department says it is ready to file lawsuits in Florida, Missouri and Tennessee alleging voting rights violations resulting from the bitterly disputed 2000 presidential election.

However, Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that he expects the cities and counties targeted by the Justice Department's civil rights division to negotiate settlements by the time he's ready to file the five suits.

``My hope, my aspiration and my expectation is that in each of those we'll reach an enforceable agreement prior to the filing of the lawsuit,'' Boyd said.

The suits, according to Boyd, will allege different treatment of minority voters, improper purging of voter rolls, ``motor voter'' registration violations and failure to provide access to disabled voters.

Other charges, he said, include failing to allow voters with limited proficiency in English to have assistance at the polls and failing to provide bilingual assistance.

Florida's voting system endured intense scrutiny after the 2000 election, including a recount and protests that went all the way to the Supreme Court before George W. Bush was declared the winner of the state - and the presidency.

Several groups have alleged that black voters were kept from voting in Florida and other states on Election Day and that ballots of others were systematically discarded.

Some Hispanic voters in Florida also alleged that they were required to produce two kinds of identification when only one was required and that they were confused by their ballots.

Boyd refused to name the cities or counties that will be sued, but he said the lawsuits would be filed within the next two months. ``It will be well in advance of the primaries for the November 2002 elections,'' he said.

Miami-Dade County is one of the counties in talks with the Justice Department, county attorney Robert Ginsburg said. County officials have discussed how they could help Haitian-Americans cast their ballots, he said.

``I think it's going to be resolved amicably. I think it may have been already, I'm not entirely sure. But they're going to come down and talk to us about that,'' Ginsburg said.

Some Democrats complained about the amount of time that it took for the Justice Department to make a decision. ``What took them so long?'' said Donna Brazile, Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign manager.

``While this news represents a positive development, we're still going to hold feet to the fire and insist that the Justice Department continue to provide regular and detailed updates until all investigations in Florida and elsewhere have been completed,'' said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Republicans cheered the decision. ``We hope that the Justice Department is able to do its job and we're glad that they're following up on problems that existed in the 2000 elections,'' Republican National Committee spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said.

Civil rights groups filed lawsuits over disenfranchised voters after Florida's 2000 presidential election against seven Florida counties: Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange and Volusia.

Broward and Leon have settled and a federal judge has asked the other counties and the civil rights groups to pursue mediation.

In St. Louis, a lawsuit was filed claiming that minorities were having trouble voting, while in Nashville, Tenn., the Justice Department last year investigated claims that names were missing from some voting rosters and polling times and places were changed in Nashville without public notice.

Boyd said the federal suits were the result of more than 11,000 complaints from voters after the election. He said the complaints were whittled down to 14 active investigations and the five potential suits.

``What we need to make sure is that we take steps quickly enough to ensure that the problems that occurred in the last election don't occur in the next election,'' said Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a possible candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

On the Net:

Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov

Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov

05/22/02 05:50 EDT