Published January 13, 2015
The lone Republican on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission (CRC) told a Senate committee Wednesday that the commission’s recent report on alleged Florida voter disenfranchisement in the 2000 election was based on falsehoods, exaggerations and fuzzy science and would serve more to create racial tension than to address the problems with the U.S. election system.
Her assertions were immediately denounced by CRC Chairwoman Mary Francis Berry.
Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, who is an author and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, told members of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee that she was left in the dark about the commission’s report until it was leaked to newspapers earlier this month.
And she said Tuesday that the commission's report — which alleged that minority voters were 10 times more likely to be disenfranchised than white voters in Florida — ignored what she said were genuine problems revealed by the election standoff in Florida. These included voter literacy, fraud, ineffective voting machines and economic resources in the counties where millions of votes were tossed out.
"Inflated rhetoric depicting crimes for which there is no evidence, undermines public confidence in civil rights advocates," she said. She referred to claims made by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Julian Bond of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and others that blacks were turned away from polling places or intimidated from voting at local precincts based on race.
"The commission's report, in my view, positively sets us back in our progress on the long road to racial and ethnic equality," she testified.
Thernstrom’s allegations were swiftly denied by Berry. Berry claimed that Thernstom was never denied information she requested and contends that the panel acted in a judicious manner, collecting considerable anecdotal evidence pointing to "ineptitude, inequity and injustice" in the recent election.
Berry stood by the report’s assertion that minority voters were more likely to have their votes tossed out than white voters by a factor of 10.
"Anybody who wants to say that nothing happened in the election in Florida — look at the videotape of the hearings and you’ll see," she said, referring to videotaped testimony of witnesses called by the CRC in order to prepare its report.
Thernstrom further charged that she was denied access to the hard data incorporated in the commission's report.
She offered testimony from her own researcher, John Lott of Yale University. Lott is known for his research on crime statistics and gun control and he recently conducted a study that found that President George W. Bush may have lost as many as 10,000 votes when media reports prematurely declared a Florida victory for then Vice President Al Gore on election night.
Lott testified that he, too, was not given the raw data from the commission when he asked for it. But based on his analysis, he contends that black voter disenfranchisement in Florida is overstated by the commission.
Thernstrom and Lott charged that the data used in the commission's report, compiled by the commission’s researcher, Allan Lichtman, was not gathered scientifically and was based too heavily on anecdotal evidence.
"One can only guess what he tried to do by the very vague discussions he had in his report," said Lott.
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris also released a response to the CRC's report accusing the commission of conducting a biased investigation designed to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Bush’s presidency.
"Instead of creating a blueprint for an election system that no American even again doubts whether his or her vote counts, the majority have crafted a battle plan for politicians interested in wielding the sword of racial division," she said.