BBC Newsnight’s allegations that thousands of black voters were denied their right to vote in Florida during the presidental election are being investigated by the US Civil Rights Commission.

BBC reporters claim that information supplied by a company called Database Technologies led to tens of thousands of Floridians being wrongfully removed from the electoral rolls on the grounds that they were felons.

Newsnight says that the list was filled with errors that led to voters–a disproportionate number of them black–being disenfranchised.

The scale of the errors and their skew against blacks is believed to have cost Al Gore thousands of votes, in an election that George W. Bush won by just 537 votes.

James Lee, a vice-president of ChoicePoint, which now owns DBT told Newsnight that the Florida state government had given DBT to understand that it “wanted there to be more names than were actually verified as a convicted felon.”

According to DBT officials, the company did not phone voters to verify the list, despite the fact that their contract called for “using telephone calls and statistical sampling” to do this. DBT identified felons, who in Florida lose the right to vote for life, by looking for a rough match between names and dates of birth. The result of this was that people with names similar to those of convicted felons were liable to be disqualified if they happened to be born around the same time, according to the BBC investigation.

Although 15% of the Florida population is black, 50% of its convicted felons are black, with the result that this procedure would potentially have led to the disqualification of large numbers of black voters who were not felons.

One member of the Civil Rights Commission, Charles Edly, said: “There is a lot of public concern that the contractor who was selected to do this is a firm that seems to have ties to the Republican party.”

Some Florida counties did not use the list because they felt that it was flawed, but most did use it, thus possibly removing thousands of lawfully registered voters from the rolls, and denying them their votes.

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