June 27, 2001
Testimony Before the Committee on Rules and Administration, United States Senate
Russell Senate Office Building, Room 301
For Release: Wednesday, June 27, 2001
Kristina Arriaga, (703) 582-8962
Charlie Ponticelli, (202) 376-7559
DISSENTING REPORT ON FLORIDA FINDS NO DISCRIMINATION
Analysis Finds Errors in Majority Report; Better Data Reveals No Bias In Election
Dr. Abigail Thernstrom, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, testified today before the Senate Rules Committee that the Commission’s majority report on the 2000 Florida election used flawed data to justify its preconceived, partisan belief that the election was marred by discrimination and disfranchisement of minority voters. A more rigorous statistical analysis of the Florida voting data found that the race of voters in recent Florida elections was statistically unrelated to the rate of ballot spoilage.
Commissioners Thernstrom and Russell Redenbaugh today released their dissent from the Commission’s majority report, which alleged disfranchisement of “countless” minority voters in Florida.
Their dissent found serious flaws in the methodology and analysis of the Commission’s study of voting patterns and practices. The Commission ignored extensive, unrefuted evidence that the Florida election suffered only from imperfections that were unrelated to race. No evidence supports allegations of disfranchisement or discrimination against minorities.
“The majority report used shoddy statistical analysis, coupled with anecdotal and unsubstantiated allegations—disregarding the preponderance of testimony—to paint a portrait of disfranchisement and intimidation of minorities in the Florida election that bears no resemblance whatsoever to actual fact,” said Dr. Thernstrom.
Thernstrom continued: “The Florida election was, in fact, free of racial bias, and was hampered only by problems that were neither motivated by racial discrimination nor served to disfranchise minority voters. By ignoring this evidence, the Commission has squandered its credibility as a fact-finding agency. We can only conclude that the Commission, as it is presently constituted, is unable to conduct objective research, and hence is no longer able to serve the public interest.”
Among the chief weaknesses of the Commission’s majority report outlined in Thernstrom and Redenbaugh’s dissent:
1. The majority report simply ignored the preponderance of witnesses who appeared before the Commission and testified that there was no evidence of discrimination or any race-based problems in the Florida election. Problems were caused by bureaucratic inefficiencies, inexperienced voters, or other technical problems that were unrelated to race.
2. The majority report relied upon highly questionable and incomplete statistical work by Dr. Allan Lichtman, the conclusions of which were based on ecological regressions that are often unreliable. A more sophisticated regression analysis was performed for Thernstrom and Redenbaugh by Dr. John Lott. It resoundingly rejected Dr. Lichtman’s conclusions. Dr. Lott found that the rate of ballot spoilage was statistically unrelated to the race of voters.
3. Although some voters did cast invalid ballots, voter error is not disfranchisement. Race was not a dominant factor explaining the rate of ballot spoilage. Dr. Lott’s work established that non-racial factors can explain 70 percent of the variance between county rates of invalid ballots (three times as strong a relationship as Lichtman found). In other words, the best indicator of a county’s rate of ballot spoilage was not its racial composition, but other factors such as poverty. Indeed removing race entirely from the equation does not significantly change the rate of ballot spoilage.
4. Astonishingly, Dr. Lichtman’s analysis almost entirely ignores Florida's largest minority group—people of Hispanic origin—as well as all other non-black minorities, such as Asians and Native Americans.
5. Dr. Lichtman also ignored the conflict between his statewide estimate that blacks were nine times more likely than whites to cast spoiled ballots, and his more accurate precinct data that show racial disparities less than half as large.
6. Dr. Lichtman’s analysis for the Commission majority relied upon data from only the 2000 election, and failed to compare that data with earlier years. Dr. Lott compared the 2000 data with ballot spoilage data from the 1992 and ‘96 elections and compared variations in ballot spoilage to demographic changes. He found that a rise in a county’s black population did not result in a similar rise in spoilage rates, suggesting again that race is not the explanatory factor in ballot spoilage.
7. The majority report’s conclusion that the Voting Rights Act was violated relies upon a greatly distorted interpretation of the Act. Despite the thousands of voting rights cases on the books, not a single one supports the majority’s argument that higher error rates among black voters suggest disfranchisement. The Voting Rights Act was designed to provide remedies for disfranchisement—the meaning of which cannot be stretched to include voter error.
8. The Commission’s majority report improperly blames Florida state officials—particularly Governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Kathryn Harris—for technical problems with voting, in disregard of the fact that these matters were the responsibility of the 67 county supervisors of elections. In all but one of the 25 counties with the highest spoilage rates, the election was supervised by a Democrat—the one exception being an official with no party affiliation.
9. The majority report improperly charges Florida law enforcement officials with intimidating African American voters, when no credible evidence supports this inflammatory charge. As a fact-finding agency, the Commission had a responsibility to put these ugly, well-publicized allegations to rest. In fact, no evidence has been supplied that demonstrated Florida voters, regardless of race, were hindered from voting by Florida police.
10. The majority report’s analysis of errors in the “purge list” (of convicted felons ineligible to vote) incorrectly finds racial discrimination. The purge list was not used in many counties, although an exact count is unavailable. Moreover, the racial disparity on the list was due to the indisputable fact that blacks are disproportionately represented in any count of convicted felons. Also, the statistics given in the report actually show that blacks were not disproportionately included in the purge list erroneously. Instead the proportion of whites erroneously listed was double that for blacks.
11. Procedural irregularities and naked partisanship at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights seriously marred the production of the majority report on the Florida election. The Commission ignored basic the rules of evidence and procedure throughout the process of investigating the Florida election.
- Most importantly, Thernstrom & Redenbaugh were denied access to the statistical information used by the Commission’s analyst, Dr. Lichtman, so they could easily duplicate his work—in violation of the Freedom of Information Act and well-established academic standards.
- Dr. Lichtman had worked as a consultant to Al Gore and was quoted in early January (before he began any statistical analysis of his own) as saying that, based upon reading the New York Times, he had already concluded that the Voting Rights Act had been violated in the Florida election.
- Governor Bush was the only witness called before the Commission who was not allowed to make an opening statement.
- The Commission Chair was quoted in the Florida press as comparing Governor Bush and the Secretary of State to “Pontius Pilate... just washing their hands of the whole thing.”
- On March 9, six commissioners issued a “preliminary assessment”—in effect, a verdict—long before the staff had completed its review of the evidence.
- Florida authorities who might be defamed by the report were not given proper time to review the parts of the report sent to them—to say nothing of their right to review the report in its entirety.