Saturday, July 10, 2004

Another honest mistake
Let’s take a look at the Florida felon list. According to official figures, the minority population of Florida is about 11% Black and 8% Hispanic. The felon list contains 48,000 names. If the felon list matched the proportions of the population at large we would expect it to contain 5300 Blacks and 3500 Hispanics. But we all know that’s not the case. For reasons that are endlessly arguable and not relevant here, minorities are far more likely to get criminal records than Whites. Let’s triple the proportions of minorities to 17,000 Blacks and 10,500 Hispanics. We should expect the numbers on the felon list to be on this order of magnitude. Right?

Of nearly 48,000 Florida residents on the felon list, only 61 are Hispanic. By contrast, more than 22,000 are African-American.

Let’s go back to the calculator. The actual numbers are 45% Black and 0.0013% Hispanic.
In a presidential-election battleground state that decided the 2000 race by giving George W. Bush a margin of only 537 votes, the effect could be significant: black voters are overwhelmingly Democratic, while Hispanics in Florida tend to vote Republican.

Elections officials of Florida's Republican administration denied any partisan motive in use of the method they adopted, and noted that it had been approved as part of a settlement of a civil rights lawsuit.

"This was absolutely unintentional," said Nicole de Lara, spokeswoman for the Florida secretary of state, Glenda E. Hood, an appointee of Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother…


The method uses race as one of several factors in determining whether a felon has registered to vote. If a voter's first name, last name and date of birth are the same as those of a convicted felon but the race is different, the name is not put on the list for potential purging.

But the database of felons has only five variables for race: white, black, Asian, Indian and unknown. And a voter registered as Hispanic whose name and birth date matched a felon's would be left off the purge list unless his race was listed as unknown.


The exclusion of Hispanics from the purge list explains some of the wide discrepancy in party affiliation of voters on the felon list, which bears the names of 28,025 Democrats and just 9,521 Republicans, with most of the rest unaffiliated.

Just to be clear, even if we assume the list is accurate (and we know it is not), the method they used disenfranchised all of the Democratic leaning felons but allowed something on the order of 10,000 Republican leaning felons to keep the vote. Or to put it another way, Democrats are three times as likely to be disenfranchised in Florida than are Republicans. The facts that the Republican president’s brother is the Republican governor, and that their force-of-nature mother was very upset that the governor was not able to deliver a clear victory for is brother last time are just coincidences that should not be considered when trying to figure out how this mess happened.

How exactly are we supposed to deal with something like this? I mean after we after we breathe into a paper bag for a while and chant, “I am not a conspiracy nut” in order to lower our blood pressure and pulse. At what point do good will and open mindedness on our part become gullibility and plain stupidity?

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