The Times reports on the controversy over the poll tax of the 21st century: In one of the lingering puzzles from 2000, an unknown number of legal voters were removed from Florida's rolls leading up to the presidential election, after a company working for the state mistakenly identified the voters as felons. At the same time, some counties mistakenly allowed actual felons to vote or turned away legitimate voters as suspected felons. A lawsuit filed in January 2001 sought to prevent similar errors, while another, filed just before the 2000 election, charged that the ban on felons voting discriminated against blacks and should be overturned. Critics say that President Bush would have lost in 2000 if disenfranchised felons had been allowed to vote. A 2001 report by a University of Minnesota sociologist counted more than 600,000 such felons in Florida, not including those still in prison, on parole or on probation. More than one in four black men here may not vote, the report found. The state says it is impossible to know how many disenfranchised felons live here, because some have died or moved out of state. Florida is the largest of the seven states that permanently take away the voting rights of all felons. While other states have scaled back similar bans in recent years, Mr. Bush and the Legislature call their law a necessary consequence for citizens who commit crimes, and point out that many are eventually granted clemency. "The governor believes this is a fair process," Jacob DiPietre, a spokesman for Mr. Bush, wrote in an e-mail response to questions about the ban. He pointed out that more criminals were getting their rights restored without hearings under a smoother process set in place by the governor. Those who believe the Times that voter disenfranchisement in Florida was a matter of innocent mistakes should take a hard look at Greg Palast's reporting here, most of which could only get printed across the Atlantic. Disenfranchising black men with the same names as felons, of course, accomplishes the same ultimate goal as disenfranchising the felons themselves: edging working class and minority voters out of the political process. Felon disenfranchisement is an affront to the democratic principle that decisions are made best through the participation of all affected by them and to the hope that America's crimminal justice system can serve to rehabilitate and return people to society. It perpetuates a vicious cycle by stopping the people most victimized by a broken system from mobilizing to change it.


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