U.S. Justice Department offers settlement of expected St. Loui

Saturday, July 13, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- In a proposed settlement, the U.S. Justice Department wants the city's election board to fix problems that led to chaos at the local polls in 2000.

But for the most part those problems have already been fixed, the board's attorney told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a copyright story in Friday's editions.

Rufus Tate, attorney for the St. Louis election board, said he has been in talks with the Justice Department to work out a consent decree, a settlement in which the board would agree to right past wrongs.

Not yet filed

The proposed settlement would resolve a lawsuit -- which has not yet been filed -- against the election board. The lawsuit is expected to allege mismanagement that led to chaos on Nov. 7, 2000, when hundreds of St. Louisans were turned away at the polls and, some allege, hundreds of others voted illegally.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said he couldn't comment because settlement negotiations are ongoing. The department in some cases has been working with defendants to reach agreeable settlements in good faith, and waiting to file the lawsuits as a formality, Corallo said.

In May, the department announced lawsuits against five jurisdictions. Besides St. Louis, there were three in Florida counties and one against the state of Tennessee. Settlements in the Florida case were announced in June on the same days the lawsuits were filed. A settlement in the Tennessee case is expected soon.

In St. Louis, officials have identified the city's inactive voter list as the source of the troubles, Tate said.

"The lawsuit boils down to two things: How do you reduce the number of people on the inactive list in the first place, and second, how do you get them to their proper polling places quicker?" Tate said.

Officials created the list to purge the books of nonvoters, thus making it easier to identify legal voters at the polls. But the results have been anything but easy.

St. Louis voters are placed on the inactive list if they have not voted in the previous two federal elections and a mailing sent to the resident's address was returned as undeliverable.

Voters can avoid that scenario by telling the election board they are moving to another address. But before the 2000 election, a mailing from the board didn't warn voters they would be considered inactive if they didn't act.

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