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    Hundreds of Miami-Dade votes lost, ACLU says

    Voting problems disproportionately affected predominantly black precincts in the primary, the study concludes.

    ©Associated Press
    October 22, 2002

    MIAMI -- Hundreds who showed up to vote in several Miami-Dade precincts that reported problems during the primary did not get to vote or had their votes go uncounted, according to a study released Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

    The study of 31 of 198 precincts that reported voting machine problems during the Sept. 10 primary shows 18,752 people signed voter rolls at the precincts, but only 17,208 votes were recorded, leaving a 1,544-vote shortfall, the ACLU said.

    The group cited county data that shows blacks make up 51 percent of the 52,818 registered voters in those precincts, and said it affirms concerns that blacks were disproportionately affected by the primary problems.

    "This pattern of racial discrimination in voting simply cannot be allowed to continue," said JoNel Newman, an ACLU attorney.

    Two percent of the examined 31 precincts are among the county's precincts where blacks make up less than half of registered voters, the ACLU said.

    But 17 percent of the 31 precincts are among those precincts where blacks make up 50 percent or more of registered voters, the ACLU said.

    "You would expect generalized incompetence to be evenly distributed, and it wasn't," Newman said. "I can't tell you why. I can just tell you that it was alarming to us."

    ACLU officials said that the number of disenfranchised voters in Miami-Dade was actually higher, because they could not account for voters turned away at the polls and couldn't check all voter rolls in other precincts.

    David Leahy, Miami-Dade's top elections official, said he could not comment on the specifics of the ACLU report because he hadn't seen it and the county hasn't reconciled the total number of signatures entered by voters at polling stations with the total number of votes recorded.

    "We just haven't done that type of analysis," Leahy said. "We're trying to make sure Nov. 5 goes right. We haven't had time to sit and analyze."

    Told of the ACLU report, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas acknowledged that "large segments of voters" countywide were disenfranchised in the primary.

    "It is our role to make sure that everybody who is properly registered to vote has a fair opportunity to do so," Penelas said.

    Penelas met Monday with Allen Weinstein of the Center for Democracy, the independent watchdog group that is going to monitor the general election in Miami-Dade.

    Weinstein said the group would send 12 observers and five technical experts Miami-Dade Nov. 5.

    Meanwhile, early voting started in Miami-Dade Monday.

    Leahy said voting went well, but did not have any turnout totals immediately available.

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