AEI's John Lott falsely claimed civil rights commission "[was]n't able to identify even one person" who was disenfranchised in Florida

››› ››› NICOLE CASTA

Appearing on the October 21 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, John R. Lott Jr., resident scholar at conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, claimed that the federal government's "[U.S.] Commission on Civil Rights did an extensive set of hearings [on voter disenfranchisement], they weren't able to identify even one person" who was disenfranchised in Florida during the 2000 election. Lott went on to assert that "there's been lots of people in the government who ... have looked for these types of claims [of voter disenfranchisement] and haven't been able to find it." But in June 2001, as the federal government's U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) reported: "Credible evidence shows many Floridians were denied the right to vote." The USCCR is "an independent, bipartisan agency charged with monitoring and protecting voting rights."

As Media Matters for America has previously noted, according to the Commission's report, numerous Florida voters -- especially black voters -- were wrongly disenfranchised, largely as a result of defective voting machines and an inaccurate list of supposed felons who were wrongly deemed ineligible to vote. "Florida's reliance on a flawed voter exclusion list" provided to counties by Katherine Harris, then Florida's secretary of state and currently a Republican member of Congress, "had the result of denying African Americans the right to vote. ... Similarly, the analysis shows a direct correlation between race and having one's vote discounted as a spoiled ballot."

Greg Palast, who "investigat[ed] the 2000 ballot count in Florida for BBC television," noted in an article in the June 20 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle: "The U.S. Civil Rights Commission looked into the smelly pile of spoiled ballots and concluded that, of the 179,855 ballots invalidated by Florida officials, 53 percent were cast by black voters. In Florida, a black citizen was 10 times as likely to have a vote rejected as a white voter."

A May 13, 2003, Baltimore Sun article, co-written by Palast and Martin Luther King III, states: "In the two years before the elections, the Florida secretary of state's [Harris] office quietly ordered the removal of 94,000 voters from the registries. Supposedly, these were convicted felons who may not vote in Florida. Instead, the overwhelming majority were innocent of any crime -- and just over half were black or Hispanic." And as Palast wrote in a December 2000 Salon.com article: "A close examination suggests thousands of voters may have lost their right to vote based on a flaw-ridden [voter exclusion] list."

After the 2000 election, Florida's Republican governor, Jeb Bush, appointed a panel "to sort out the state's election troubles and make recommendations for the Legislature to correct the problems," according to a December 15, 2000, Associated Press article, which quoted the governor as follows: "There have been allegations that felons voted and people's names were removed from the voter rolls. These are issues that must be addressed."

From the October 21 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: Election officials across the country have trumpeted extensive efforts to secure our national voting system in the four years since the 2000 election. However, a number of issues from voter intimidation to technical glitches and fraud are still threatening to undermine the election on November 2nd.

Joining me tonight from Washington, D.C., is Edward Hailes. He is senior attorney for the Advancement Project. He believes our national election system is broken, and has been for some time.

And John Lott, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who says there is no evidence of voter intimidation or voting booth fraud.

[...]

LOTT: Well, probably no way you can get around that. Different people gain and lose as a result of how well I think the system can operate in different places. I think a lot of the discussion about disenfranchising African-American voters, in particular I think it's been fairly sad, because I think there have been a lot of myths in Florida, for example. I mean, you have the Commission on Civil Rights did an extensive set of hearings, they weren't able to identify even one person.

DOBBS: Not one?

LOTT: No.

[...]

LOTT: Even the Democrats on the Civil Rights Commission were not able to point to a single case of voter intimidation in Florida. They had possibilities that might have existed. But the only cases that people could even point to that were even remotely were similar would be like a police officer's car who was a mile from the polling place. Nothing that the police officer intimidated people or talked to people or threatened them and he was a mile from the polling place. And no evidence, not one case where they could point to somebody who, because of intimidation, didn't vote.

[...]

LOTT: I think it is sad to me, because I think these have real long-run repercussions by making people think there is some systemic effort to try to prevent people from voting. And I think there's been lots of people in the government who have a big -- would like to find this and have looked for these types of claims and haven't been able it find it. And I think it is sad that these charges are keep on being made.

Lott is also a staunch gun-rights advocate and the author of the book More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun-Control Laws (University of Chicago Press, 1998), which relies on disputed research. Lott's study, which is based on his survey of more than 2,000 households, indicated that guns are used for self-defense several million times each year.

According to a January 23, 2003, article in The Washington Times, Lott wrote the following in the first edition of More Guns, Less Crime: "If national surveys are correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack." In his 1997 testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the Nebraska Legislature, Lott named "the Los Angeles Times, Gallup, Roper, Peter Hart, about 15 national survey organizations in total" as having conducted studies that backed his claim of 98 percent. But as the January 23, 2003, Washington Times article noted, "Lott cited no source for that statistic in the first edition of More Guns, Less Crime," and after questions were raised, "in the second edition he wrote that he had conducted his own survey."

When questions were raised on Internet weblogs as to the source and validity of Lott's claims, Lott created "Mary Rosh" -- a supposed female former student of Lott's -- to defend him. According to an article in the December 2003 issue of Washington Monthly, "Someone named 'Mary Rosh' started turning up on Web sites where Lott's work was being discussed, claiming to be a former student of the embattled academic and defending him vigorously. Some Web loggers investigated and couldn't find any student of his by that name. Eventually, Lott admitted that he himself was 'Mary Rosh.'"

Lott also embellished his credentials while testifying before the Judiciary committee of the Nebraska Legislature in 1997, referring to himself as "a professor at the University of Chicago Law School" when he was actually "a law and economics fellow," according to his American Enterprise Institute biography. The highest teaching title he has earned is assistant professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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