2000 Florida Election Dispute Headed to Court

The state and counties have reached a deadlock with civil rights groups who sued over the bitterly disputed 2000 presidential election, attorneys told a judge Tuesday.

"As far as I'm concerned, this case is going to trial," U.S. District Judge Alan Gold told the attorneys on both sides after they told him mediation had failed. "It's disappointing, but it is what it is."

The two sides were in conference with a mediator as late as Monsensus of the group that we had reached impasse."

The NAACP and four other civil rights groups are suing Florida and several counties about problems that they claim disenfranchised voters during the election that was later settled in the courts. President Bush beat Al Gore in Florida by just 537 votes.

Gold stressed his desire in May to solve the election dispute in mediation.

Lori Borgen, an attorney with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the groups suing would like to keep talking with hopes of making progress.

The civil rights groups want the judge to examine the way the state and counties drop voters, process voter registration applications and address changes and assign precinct equipment and staffing.

"We don't think that what the state intends to do from this point forward will sufficiently protect voters," Lawyers' Committee attorney Anita Hodgkiss said after the hearing.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission harshly criticized the 2000 election in Florida. When the commission met last week in Miami to review the state's election changes, chairwoman Mary Frances Berry said she had a feeling the Sept. 10 primary will be "a mini-disaster."

Settlements have been reached with Broward and Leon counties and Choicepoint Inc., a company that helped the state develop a list for stripping people thought to be convicted felons from voting rolls. Settlement papers with Alpharetta, Ga.-based Choicepoint haven't yet been filed.

The remaining defendants include the state and Miami-Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Orange and Volusia counties covering the cities of Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando and Daytona Beach.

The lawsuit and a redistricting challenge are the last major court fights expected before fall elections in Florida. Gold's trial set for Aug. 26 is not expected to have any effect on the primary election.

The Justice Department is still reviewing legislative boundary lines for compliance with the Voting Rights Act but found no harm to minority voting power with new congressional district lines.