U.S. To Sue Over 2000 Election

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of State Michael E. Parmly, left, and Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice Ralph F. Boyd address the World Conference Against Racism , in Geneva Switzerland, Friday, Aug. 3, 2001. (AP Photo/Donald Stampfli)
The government will file three lawsuits against Florida counties alleging voting rights violations resulting from the bitterly disputed 2000 presidential election, a Justice Department official said Tuesday.

Two other lawsuits also will be filed, in Missouri and Tennessee, by the department's civil rights division, Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The lawsuits will allege different treatment of minority voters, improper purging of voter rolls, "motor voter" registration violations and failure to provide access to disabled voters, Boyd said.

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, as well as dozens of black members of Congress, have alleged that black voters were kept from voting in Florida and other states on Election Day and 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.

The lawsuits in Florida cover particular counties, while the ones in Tennessee and Missouri deal with cities, he said.

"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. Even so, he indicated the suits still would be filed.

He said the counties and cities are cooperating in the Justice Department's investigation and have acknowledged "certain deficiencies we have identified."

Boyd said the lawsuits are 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 lawsuits.

"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.

Boyd agreed on the importance of moving promptly but said it was more important to proceed carefully and "get it right without regard to the political implications for anyone."

"We're going to follow the investigative trail, the evidence wherever it goes without regard to politics and without regard to whose, if anyone's, ox is being gored," he said.

Congress attempted to push through a bill revamping national elections after the 2000 elections, but the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate deadlocked in February on what changes they would like to make.