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    U.S.: Some Fla. vote complaints can't be pursued

    ©Associated Press
    June 8, 2002

    WASHINGTON -- Some Florida voting rights complaints resulting from the bitter 2000 presidential election -- including the infamous butterfly ballots and allegations of missing ballot boxes -- were either false or can't be prosecuted, the Justice Department said Friday.

    This came in a letter Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd wrote to Senate Democrats in response to questions about why the Justice Department decided against filing lawsuits in some cases it was investigating for possible voting rights violations.

    For example, federal prosecutors cannot tackle allegations that the confusing butterfly ballot made Florida voters cast ballots for Patrick Buchanan instead of Al Gore, said Boyd, the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division.

    "Review by career staff . . . showed that we lacked federal jurisdiction over issues surrounding the implementation and use of these ballots, and thus we determined that further action was not warranted," Boyd told senators.

    Boyd has authorized five voting rights lawsuits stemming from the 2000 election, with three in Florida focusing on language assistance issues. Two other lawsuits have been authorized in Missouri and Tennessee. Negotiations were under way in these lawsuits, he said.

    On Friday, Boyd settled one of the lawsuits, which alleged that Miami-Dade County denied help at the polls to Haitian-Americans with limited English abilities.

    The Justice Department also accused the county of failing to train its poll workers about the ways they could have assisted certain people under the Voting Rights Act. The law mandates that voters who are blind, disabled or cannot read or write be given help at the polls.

    Although the Justice Department said it found no evidence of deliberate discrimination, county officials agreed to try to have at least one Creole-speaking poll worker at appropriate places, provide more Haitian-American voter education and post signs in Creole.

    Boyd's action failed to quell anger about these complaints.

    "I want to see how they were disposed of. I want to see the care that they took," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. "I want to see it in detail -- we owe it to poor people. This is not just the right to vote, it's the right to have your vote counted."

    Disputes over the election outcome and numerous claims of voting rights violations in Florida threw the election between George Bush and Gore into the Supreme Court.

    Boyd said the five lawsuits came out of 21 active investigations -- 14 from Florida and seven from outside the state -- that resulted from more than 11,000 complaints. He originally told the Senate Judiciary Committee there were only 14 investigations, but increased the number to 21 in his letter.

    Twelve of those investigations have been closed, while one in Florida and three outside the state remain open.

    Last month, Boyd told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the agency planned to sue three Florida counties for possible voting rights violations in 2000.

    Election officials in Miami-Dade, Orange and Osceola counties said they had been contacted by the Justice Department.

    Orange and Osceola, which are both in Central Florida, had not reached any settlements Friday, elections officials said.

    -- Information from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel was used in this report.

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