November 29, 2000

NAACP to go to court over election in Florida

BALTIMORE, Maryland (Reuters) - The NAACP on Wednesday said it would go to court in Florida to seek remedies for alleged voting irregularities that civil rights leaders claim denied the right to vote to untold numbers of blacks on Election Day.

As post-election wrangling between Republicans and Democrats entered a fourth week, the leading U.S. civil rights group said it would seek "injunctive relief" for minority voters who insist they were illegally turned away by sheriff's deputies, wrongly stricken from voter rolls or beset by other dubious barriers.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said several lawsuits would be filed as early as next week against the state government and election officials in counties including Broward, Miami-Dade and Hillsboro.

"We want a court order to make Florida assure the right of every qualified citizen to cast a ballot and to have it counted," Mfume told a news conference at the organization's headquarters in Baltimore.

NAACP litigation was not expected to have an effect on the legal battle over the presidential race in Florida. The state has certified Republican George W. Bush as the winner of its 25 electoral votes by a razor-thin margin over Democrat Al Gore.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People launched the biggest voter drive in its 91-year history this year, spending more than $10 million to encourage what civil rights leaders believe was the biggest black voter turnout in decades.

A barrage of voter complaints

But NAACP staff members said they began fielding a barrage of voter complaints by mid-afternoon on Election Day. Their organization has since aired claims of vote suppression in Duval and West Palm Beach counties, and outright voter intimidation in Broward and Hillsboro counties, where some blacks were allegedly denied access to the ballot box by county law enforcement officers.

Mfume said the NAACP would support planned protests against voter suppression later this week in Florida. NAACP officials also were expected to join a march from the Justice Department to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, which the Rev. Jesse Jackson was said to be planning for Friday.

The nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization also will hold hearings in several states including Missouri, where blacks are reported to have been turned away from polling stations that either closed early or refused to stay open until all ballots had been cast.

Meanwhile, the NAACP stepped up criticism of the Justice Department for its "silence" on the subject of alleged voting irregularities in Florida that could violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which guarantees equal access to the ballot box.

Black civil rights leaders repeatedly have called on U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate claims that state authorities deliberately and systematically suppressed the vote of minorities in the state. Federal officials have said they are reviewing allegations of voting irregularities and have yet to decide whether to investigate.

"Given the Justice Department's silence, we are now prepared to go to court and file suits to seek legal remedies that will determine what happened during this election, and take steps to prevent a recurrence," Mfume said on Wednesday.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved.