Jeb Bush Targets African-American Election Commissioner Who Criticized State Voting System

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We look at the case of suspended Florida elections supervisor Miriam Oliphant. A trial is underway in the Florida State Senate to decide whether Gov. Jeb Bush’s decision to suspend her should be upheld. Oliphant and her supporters charge that she is being targeted because of her criticism of the Florida voting system and because she is an African American woman. [includes rush transcript]

With the Democratic National Convention set to kick off next week in Boston, controversy continues to rage over voting procedures, particularly in the state of Florida. Last week, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson held a press conference at the National press Club in which he alleged that more than a million voters nationwide were disenfranchised in the 2000 elections. Meanwhile, a trial is underway at the Florida State Senate that is highlighting ongoing problems with that state’s voting process.

Today, suspended Florida elections supervisor Miriam Oliphant takes the stand in her own defense to decide whether the Senate should uphold Gov. Jeb Bush”s decision to suspend her.

Bush suspended Oliphant last year without pay for alleged neglect of duty, incompetence and misfeasance stemming from a 2002 gubernatorial primary. Bush alleges that Broward county voters received bad ballots and inaccurate registration information. In addition, some polls opened late and others closed early, and thousands of votes were not counted promptly. Oliphant and her supporters charge that she is being targeted because of her criticism of the Florida voting system and electronic voting system. Specifically, Oliphant criticized Florida’s use of the ES&S electronic voting system. Moreover, Oliphant’s lawyer is charging that she is being targeted because she is an African American woman. Broward is the county whose votes were ordered not to be counted by the Supreme Court of the United States in the 2000 presidential election.

Oliphant was elected by 70% of the vote in 2000 becoming the first Black constitutional Supervisor of Elections in Broward County. She filed papers last week announcing her intent to run for supervisor again. A number of civil rights groups have come forward to defend Oliphant, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice. We called Gov. Bush’s office, but they declined to come on the program.

  • Miriam Oliphant, Broward County election supervisor. In November she was suspended by Gov. Jeb Bush. There is currently a trial in the Florida State Senate surrounding her case.
  • Sevell Brown, Florida president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
  • Henry Hunter, Florida lawyer representing Miriam Oliphant

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined, though, on the telephone by Miriam Oliphant, who is the Broward county election supervisor. We are joined by Henry Hunter, her attorney, and by Sevell Brown, the Florida president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Miriam Oliphant, you are set to go on the stand today. What are you going to say?

MIRIAM OLIPHANT: Well, good morning. I really appreciate you allowing me to come on and speak to the whole world this morning. I have an opportunity to face my accusers. These are the Broward county commissioner, the Governor of the state of Florida, as well as Glenda Hood, the Secretary of State, who falsely accused me of wrongdoing and neglect of my duties. And these officers are under subpoena. They are refusing to show up and testify, and I think that it’s wrong. They have sabotaged my elections. They have conspired against me, and I think I have the right to face my accusers, and that is what should happen today. And we are very much concerned because the testimony that has been given in the courtroom has shown that people were responsible for duties and they neglected their duties, and they should be held accountable as well.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the charges that the Governor, Jeb Bush, is making, saying that Broward county voters received bad ballots and inaccurate registration information, that some polls opened late, others closed early, and that thousands of votes were not counted properly?

MIRIAM OLIPHANT: Again, Governor Bush is making false accusations against me. The information that has been provided to the courtroom is not the information that the Governor has cited me for. As a Constitutional Officer, he has illegally suspended me in a very malicious way. People have responsibilities, you know, over the poll workers’ department, missing ballots. These people were fired by me and rehired by my replacement. Governor Bush needs to testify. He needs to come into the courtroom under oath, the Secretary of State come into courtroom under oath and the County Commissioner, all of them file these accusations. I think I have the right to face my accusers. That way the record is clear and the voters that voted for me will have an opportunity to know exactly what happened. They need to know the truth. The Governor needs to be questioned about the charges that he has filed against me.

AMY GOODMAN: Sevell Brown, you’re the president of the Florida chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Why have you gotten involved with Miriam Oliphant’s case?

SEVELL BROWN: The Christian Leadership Conference in Florida, basically after ascertaining and evaluating most of the facts of as opposed to those illusionary allegations that were made came to the conclusion that there was ample merit that basically Oliphant was falsely accused. And we just applaud her Herculean efforts to not let them break her spirit with the smear campaign that reaches from South Florida Tallahassee to the Governor. Our concern is encapsulated in that here you have a Supervisor of Elections Officer that within a year half of taking on her duties after getting elected in the infamous 2000 election, she registered some 300,000-plus people, 80% of which were Democrats. Understand it’s a simple matter of math, Broward county, the same county that was stopped by the Supreme Court of counting the ballots, basically could have made the difference in terms of who was the President the of the United States. We have the same county with an aggressive supervisor of elections of color historically for the first time and she has 300,000 people registered and there was a differential only 500-something votes. The fact that the Broward county commissioners chaired by Laurie Parrish and others have connections with cronies in the state legislature that are tied to the election machines and the bid from the machines that were put forth, Oliphant, the crime that she is guilty of is not playing ball, and not compromising herself, and becoming corrupt. She stayed firm, and she stayed firm on the issue from day one. And so, the thing that we are very concerned about that America needs to see, and we wish that this could have been aired on Court TV where the false allegations of being put to rest under cross-examination and even their state witnesses have to say out of their own mouths that Miriam Oliphant was competent. It’s a shame to say that the rest of the country might be facing another fiasco in 2004 in November of this year if we don’t do something in terms of all of the civil rights organizations, all of those watchdog national umbrella entities that need to come in and see in the next 105 days as we’re counting down, this Secretary of State has done nothing now to do anything about those ES & S machines that they have there that are flawed in Broward county and that seven other counties are having to deal with, and we are 105 days away from the election and the Secretary of State has not moved, so we are very concerned that America needs to basically put on its seatbelt and brace themselves for another major political debacle in Florida if something is not done, and that’s why we will call on the Governor to take emergency measures and issue an emergency executive order on the five points that would make sure that we — make sure that he would appoint a Florida elections commission with the authority to take any and all actions to assure, fair, full and free vote for Floridians. And to this point, we are outraged at the fact that the Secretary of State is fighting to testify today not to take the stand today, but Broward county commissioners, with all of the corruption that permeates that commission down there; it even permeates the media down there. They were able to escape getting on the stand and testifying where the truth would come out, and all of these — all of the shenanigans, all of the political mayhem and cronyism and all of this money and they wanted to use Miriam Oliphant as a scapegoat and smear her name because she’s asking America to say something. The listeners need to understand this.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Henry Hunter into this conversation, who is representing Miriam Oliphant. Why did you want Glenda Hood, who replaced Katherine Harris as Secretary of State to testify in this, and how unusual is this state senate hearing?

HENRY HUNTER: Well, this state senate hearing is probably the first one since 1986. I think there were two before then. It’s unprecedented there’s no statutory authority to form an assessment by the division of elections and go into a supervisor’s office for purposes of assessing the office. They went in to pretend to offer Miss Oliphant assistance and afterwards came back with a recommendation of suspension. Recommendation of suspension has never been used to suspend anybody in Florida. She has been systematically audited. She is a Constitutional Officer audited by the Broward county officers at least four or five times. She had the Constitutional Office; the first effort was made to not make it a constitutional office by going to try to review. The Broward county Supervisor of Elections office is the plum, the pearl of the county because it’s the highest paid Elected Supervisor’s office. It has more voters now under the restricting and Ms. Oliphant. It came up to 1 million people. I think what you have here is some of her peer review — Miss Oliphant is a very attractive African-American female. She didn’t fit into the clique. They went down to call themselves getting her election ready. She has run 13 successful elections. This election, the special election for which they suspended her, she has run elections in that area before. The peculiar part about it is that she is not charged with any one particular act. They made an allegation of incompetence, which sounds to the public like inability to run the job. An 'Incompetence Statutory' defined is a physical inability that occurs after you are in office. If you don’t have a physical disability to perform your job, but then the voters voted her in, 500,000 voters. The community is very proud. They have the first black constitutional office, probably the most politically influential office in view of fact that she has contact with all of the voters. We feel for whatever reason that they have here, it was a reason that’s not within the constitution, it’s not within the statutes of the state of Florida, and we feel that it’s the personal jealousy, it’s an effort to go down and feel that here is this black female who can’t have the ability to run this job but what they realize is that she had an exceptional amount of backup. She outsourced everything they were complaining about and everything was fine. Everything was fine with her until she fired two particular employees. It was over poll workers and absentee ballots. This is a crucial area, because these were the two people that caused her the greatest problems. When she fired these two people, one with a high school education the other one didn’t finish college, but had been there for a while, that’s when she was fired. They brought these two individuals back, and I can’t understand that for the life of me.

AMY GOODMAN: How unusual is it that an elected official is suspended without criminal charges being brought against them?

HENRY HUNTER: Highly unusual, almost unheard of.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, and then when we come back, I want to ask Miriam Oliphant one, about the voting machines and why you oppose the ES & S voting machines, and then even though you’re going through this hearing, you are now going to run again to be the elected elections supervisor. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. Finally, Miriam Oliphant, the issue of why you opposed the electronic voting machines: the county’s 17.2 million dollar electronic voting system.

MIRIAM OLIPHANT: I opposed that machine because of the fact that E & S voting system had never been used in an election. I recommended one that was used in the November, 2000 election. Of course, I was opposed by the Broward county commissioners. It’s their responsibility to purchase and to fund the budget of the Broward County Supervisor of the Elections office. Knowing that the system had never been used, knowing that it was labor intense, it would require additional workers, additional dollars, additional precincts and just more and more labor intense, and I have to make mention that I am a professional. I’m a college graduate with a master’s degree. I have served as an elected official in the Broward county School Board, I chaired over a $2 million budget. I have served and worked with the Broward county court system as a professional for well over 20 years. For someone to question my competence and my qualifications, it really concerns me about the 500,000 voters, who elected me in November, 2000. I registered most voters in the state of Florida: everything that I have recommended and approved by the community has been overruled by the Broward county commission as well as the Secretary of State. And again, it concerns me that they have subpoenas. They should be on the stand today to tell their thoughts. Why did they interfere with my operations? Why would they micromanage my office? Why would they overrule me on a voting system that was never used? You know, already the Governor of the state of Florida has claimed Broward. There goes Broward. It goes for Bush. There goes the state of Florida for Bush. It really concerns me that the people should be alarmed that the fact that the conspiracy has already started before the election in November.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to bring Sevell Brown for the last 30 seconds back, of the SCLC, the Reverend Jesse Jackson held a news conference saying that a million people were disenfranchised in 2000. Where do you see this story fitting in?

SEVELL BROWN: Basically it bespeaks what Florida represents of the rest of the nation, a microcosm of voting problems that will be permeating the system going into the 2004 elections. And we are just saying with 105 days left and counting down, we cannot allow the flawed voting machines in 17 counties in Florida to stand uncorrected, that may again determine an election as was in 2000. And to that end, we know that the Secretary of State cannot simply wash their hands and let each of the six or seven counties come up with their own system of determining or removing ineligible voters because the Supreme Court knocked that down in 2000when it said that different recount procedures in each county violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Right now, Florida is basically the microcosm of the millions of voters — of the hundreds of thousands of votes that can be lost that Jesse Jackson — or Reverend Jackson is speaking to. We just hope that the truth will come out as those in the media like Democracy Now! And others will want to get to the truth, and force these county commissioners and this Governor and this Secretary of State to get on the witness stand and testify so that the whole world will know what it’s about.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note, Sevell Brown, I want to thank you for being with us, Miriam Oliphant, the Broward county election supervisor suspended by Governor Jeb Bush is now today going to testify before the Florida state senate, and Miriam Oliphant’s attorney, Henry Hunter. Just to clarify, the election system, the voting machines that she opposed: the Nebraska-based elections system and software, ES & S. This is Democracy Now!,

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