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Civil Rights Commission Begins Hearings on Alleged Voting Rights Violations in Florida

Aired January 11, 2001 - 4:34 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The Federal Civil Rights Commission launched hearings today in Florida amid allegations that thousands of folks had their voting rights denied on Election Day. Yesterday, civil rights groups filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to revamp the state's election system.

CNN's Gary Tuchman has watched today's hearing. He joins us now with more from Tallahassee. Gary, what do you got?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is trying to find out if voter's civil rights were violated when they went to the polls on November 7, 2000. This eight- member board has received hundreds of complaints.

Now, let's make one thing clear. No matter what happens, it doesn't change the results of the November election, but it could change procedures in future elections. You've had politicians, election experts and just plain old voters come to testify during day one of this hearing.

One of those voters was an African-American pastor by the name of William Whiting Junior. He testified he went to his precinct; he was told he was no longer registered. He said he asked why. The poll worker then said to him, have you ever been to court? Whiting says he said yes, I was in court as a juror and then Whiting says the poll worker told him this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. WILLIAM WHITING JR., HOUSE OF PRAYER CHURCH: I don't know if I am a registered voter today, but I did vote that night, and I don't know how far it reaches when you name is purged from the system and you lose your civil rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: We do want to stress there was supposed to be one additional part of that. He was that according to the polling list, he was a convict and was no longer allowed to vote. Whitings says that's absolutely not true. He's a pastor who had only been in court as a juror before. Interestingly, he does say he ending up voting after threatening legal action. Now, another witness today, the governor of this state; the brother of the president-elect, Governor Jeb Bush. And he was asked, did you do anything before the election to ensure there wouldn't be any problems? Jeb Bush says he wasn't involved in the mechanics of the election. The mechanics of the election are controlled by the 67 election supervisors in the 67 counties in Florida and the secretary of state of Florida, Katherine Harris. Jeb Bush does say he did do things after the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: Probably 10 days or maybe even earlier after we began to discuss with people around the state the possibility of a task force that would deal with these issues after the eventual - -after the process ended and a candidate was named president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A candidate?

BUSH: My brother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your brother.

BUSH: In case you didn't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just for the record.

BUSH: That's right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: That task force examining Florida's problems met this Monday and this Tuesday here in Tallahassee. That task force will hold three more meetings in three different Florida cities before issuing a report to the Florida legislature by March 1st.

Meanwhile, this civil rights commission has about 15 more minutes today. It will meet again all day tomorrow. Katherine Harris will take the stand to testify. This commission will then hold one more meeting in the city of Miami in about three weeks before issuing a final report sometime this summer.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: All right; Gary Tuchman, national correspondent, in Tallahassee today.

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