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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 20:27 GMT 21:27 UK
Florida vote criticised
Pro-Gore protest in Florida, with civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson centre
Blacks were more likely to be excluded than whites
Blacks in Florida were nearly 10 times as likely as whites to have their ballots rejected in the American presidential election last year, a report by the US Commission on Civil Rights has found.

The report has harsh criticism for Florida Governor Jeb Bush - the president's younger brother - and Secretary of State Katherine Harris but does not accuse them of conspiring to exclude voters.

The disenfranchisement was not isolated or episodic. State officials failed to fulfil their duties

Civil rights report
The report, which was leaked to three US newspapers before it was due to be published on Friday, has already come under attack from some members of the commission itself.

George W Bush officially won the state of Florida - and thus the White House - by 537 votes.

'Gross dereliction of duty'

The report says that Florida's election procedures were characterised by "injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency" and said Florida officials were "grossly derelict" in their duties.

It found that 54% of votes that were rejected came from black voters, who make up only 11% of the state's population.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, brother of George W Bush
Mr Bush says the system has been improved
"The disenfranchisement was not isolated or episodic. ... It was widespread disenfranchisement and not the dead-heat contest that was the extraordinary feature in the Florida election," the commission is reported to have concluded.

Mr Bush and Ms Harris are accused of having chosen "to simply ignore the mounting evidence" of serious problems on Election Day.

But it "did not find conclusive evidence that the highest officials of the state conspired to produce the disenfranchisement of voters".

Report attacked

A Republican-appointed member of the civil rights commission said the report - and the leak - spring from Democratic anger at George W Bush's victory.

I knew what the conclusions were before this process started

Abigal Thernstrom,
Republican commissioner
"There are a number of people who are so displeased with the outcome of the election that they would do almost anything to cast a cloud over the legitimacy of the election and the legitimacy of this administration," Russell Redenbaugh, a political independent, told The New York Times newspaper.

Abigail Thernstrom, the only declared Republican on the eight-member commission, said the leaking of the report was a "procedural travesty".

She said she had not been consulted "about the substance or the conclusions of the report".

She said she had not yet received a copy herself.

But asked if she knew what its conclusions were, she told The New York Times, "I knew what the conclusions were before this process started."

Florida Governor Bush said through a spokeswoman that he would not comment until he received a final draft of the report.

Bush communications director Katie Burr said that since the commission began its investigation, "the governor has signed into law one of the most progressive election reform bills in the nation".

The commission does not have the power to act on its findings or impose penalties.

It is expected to ask the US Justice Department and the Florida Attorney General's office to investigate the possible violations of civil rights law.

See also:

21 Mar 01 | Americas
Chads punched out in Florida
20 Jan 01 | Americas
Doubts remain about Florida vote
12 Jan 01 | Americas
Harris defends Florida poll
11 Jan 01 | Americas
Florida's black voters protest
11 Jan 01 | Americas
US chaos prompts hi-tech voting
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