Nearly 200,000 Florida residents may be disenfranchised by their state government, with officials in Gov. Rick Scott’s administration seeking to “scrub” names from the voter rolls in time for the November election.
A broad coalition of voting rights groups are pleading with Gov. Scott and the Florida secretary of state — in charge of the state’s elections — to halt the mass purge of names from lists of eligible voters until more research can be done to determine the extent of non-citizens that the state is claiming to be illegally registered to vote in the Sunshine State.
Voting rights activists are alleging that not only is Florida’s efforts to purge the rolls so close to a general election against federal law, but that the state’s program is strictly targeting Hispanic residents who may inherently have a hard time proving their citizenship. Groups call the purge “unfair” and pure “discrimination.”
A coalition of voting rights groups is asking Gov. Rick Scott to stop a statewide effort to purge thousands of potential non-citzens from the voting rolls, and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, also plans to ask the governor to stop the scrub.
Lawyers for the groups said in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner that the voting purge is in violation of the National Voting Rights Act which prohibits systematic purging of the voter rolls 90 days prior to a general election. The purge effort falls within that 90-day prohibition because of Florida’s Aug. 14 primary.
Project Vote, Fair Elections Legal Network, Advancement Project, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, LULAC Florida, and the Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition asked Detzner to abandon the non-citizen initiative, prompted by Gov. Rick Scott after he took office in 2010.
Many of the voters on the list are Hispanics, which could also be a violation of the NVRA which requires state voter list maintenance programs to be uniform and non-discriminatory, lawyers for the groups said.
“The right to vote is the fundamental pillar of our democracy. Florida has a shameful history of purging minority voters based on false information and inaccurate lists right before the presidential elections,” Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, said in a press release. “This year’s deeply flawed process disproportionately targets Latino voters and is discriminatory, unfair and antithetical to the values of our nation.”
The controversy over voter rolls erupted earlier this month, when state elections officials suddenly ordered local elections supervisors to identify and then purge from lists of eligible voters anyone “suspected” of being a non-U.S. citizen and thus ineligible to legally vote. The state had already compiled a list of nearly 200,000 names of Florida residents that the Scott administration “suspected” were illegally registered to vote.
Local officials balked at the herculean task of properly researching the massive list and purging voters in time for the November election. Also at issue is the rampant inaccuracy of the state list of 180,000 names. Local elections offices were ordered to strike the names of legitimate U.S. citizens from voter rolls merely because the state had placed their name on their list, leading to the outcry from rights groups and worries of legal action from local governments. State officials have said they are “gearing up” to eliminate as many names from voter rolls as they can.
Now Florida has promised to vet their non-citizens voter lists against an equally questionable Homeland Security database, without official authorization from the federal government. Local elections supervisors hope this clears up the controversy, but critics are still horrified that state officials would aggressively seek a voter “purge” only months before a presidential election where Florida could determine the outcome.
State highway officials soon will begin vetting a list of 180,000 potential non-citizens who are registered to vote against a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database, The Palm Beach Post has learned.
This could resolve a sticking point between the state Division of Elections and elections supervisors for the state’s 67 counties over the state’s demand that supervisors start removing some of the names from their voter rolls.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ effort will cost at least $90,000.
The news came as a surprise to elections supervisors who, at their summer meeting this week, pleaded with state Division of Elections leaders to more thoroughly scrub the records before sending them on to the local officials for further action.
Last month, the Department of State, which includes the Division of Elections, gave county elections supervisors a list of more than 2,600 voters, many of them in Miami-Dade County, potentially ineligible to vote because they may not be legal citizens. The list was generated by matching voter registration files with driver’s license data.
But the information in the list included some voters who were born in the U.S. and others who are naturalized citizens. Secretary of State Ken Detzner and his staff said the Department of Homeland Security had refused to give them access to the federal database with more up-to-date immigration and citizenship information.
But the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has access to the SAVE — “Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements” — database, prompting county supervisors on Tuesday and Wednesday to ask the state elections staff to get DHSMV to run the records through SAVE.
Unless Gov. Scott and the secretary of state’s office thoroughly vet and correct the apparently bloated list of “non-citizens” that the state has compiled, hundreds if not thousands of U.S. citizens in Florida stand to be disenfranchised this year and beyond. Mistakes on the list of names to purge have been documented across the state, with an overwhelming number of them Hispanic residents.
To document the flaws in Florida’s increasingly infamous purge list, Seminole County supervisor of elections Michael Ertel posted a photo of himself on Twitter posing with a “non-citizen” holding his United States passport.
Why would Florida launch a botched witchhunt to combat a problem that is virtually nonexistent? Florida’s former secretary of state, who resigned shortly after the purge effort was initiated, has fingered Gov. Rick Scott for personally ordering the state investigation into vague rumors — mostly stemming from conservative “Tea Party” activists – of non-citizens being registered to vote.
When Scott faced pushback on the merits of his proposal, the governor insisted that “people lie” and that the purge would go on as planned.
Florida’s quest to identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls was started at the direct urging of Gov. Rick Scott, the state’s former top elections official said.
Ex-Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who resigned this year, told The Associated Press that Scott asked him whether or not non-U.S. citizens were registered and if those people were voting. Browning explained to the governor during a face-to-face meeting last year that people who register and falsely claim they are citizens can be charged with a crime.
“He says to me — well, people lie,” Browning recalled this week. “Yes, people do. But we have always had to err on the side of the voter.”
Browning said the conversation prompted state election officials to begin working to identify non-U.S. citizens. The state’s initial list — compiled by comparing driver’s licenses with voter registration data — showed that as many as 182,000 registered voters were eligible to be in the country but ineligible to vote.
But Browning said he decided against telling local election supervisors right away because he wanted to make sure the information was accurate in order to avoid a “firestorm of press” and criticism. Florida then spent months trying to get access to a federal database that tracks non-U.S. citizens in the country, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not allow it.
“We were not confident enough about the information for this secretary to hang his hat on it,” said Browning, who resigned after the Jan. 31 presidential preference primary.
It’s not just suspected “non-citizens” that face an assault on their voting rights. In concert with the far larger campaign against Florida residents who are accused of not being United States citizens, the state has already purged nearly 7,000 names from voter rolls in 2012 because of felony convictions. Most of those disenfranchised are minorities, mostly African Americans. And nearly all are registered Democrats.
Voting rights groups have criticized Florida’s official policy of stripping convicted felons of their right to vote and making the process almost impossible to reverse once individuals are released from prison. Activists have long insisted that minorities are the main target of the policy, and new data on those purged this year confirm these suspicions.
As Florida scours its voter rolls in search of non-U.S. citizens, another form of purging continues: stripping felons of the ability to vote, including high numbers of Democrats and African-Americans.
In the first four months of 2012, election supervisors removed nearly 7,000 voters from the rolls following recent felony convictions. The system of regaining voting rights in Florida is so lengthy and strict that many will likely never vote again.
The Times/Herald analyzed state data that included the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, age and race of 6,934 purged voters from January through April. In Florida, a felony conviction means the loss of civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury or run for office.
According to the data, Democrats were three times more likely than Republicans to be removed. Blacks were almost as likely as whites to be removed (44 percent of those removed were white; 43 percent were blacks), while blacks make up 16 percent of the state’s population.
“It’s good news that only 7,000 voters committed new crimes out of almost 11 million voters statewide,” said Reggie Garcia, a Tallahassee lawyer and clemency expert. “It’s bad news that they are disproportionately African-American, Democrat and presumably males.”
In case you had not noticed, it is getting increasingly difficult to vote in Florida, especially if you are young, minority, or have a criminal background. Since taking office, Gov. Scott has worked with an overwhelmingly Republican state legislature to curb every means of voting in the state.
Early voting, incredibly successful and used by close to half of all voters in recent elections, has been slashed to only a few days prior to an election. The move mainly impacts working-class voters and students who may either be at a job on Election Day, in class, or out of state visiting family.
Even the simple act of registering to vote has becoming close to impossible. Well-known national groups that have registered new voters for decades — such as the League of Women Voters — have ceased all registration campaigns in Florida due to the onerous new government regulations placed on both them and individuals looking to sign up for democracy. Some groups still registering in the state have faced threats of legal or even police action from state officials if they continue with registrations.
These new policies have combined to make Florida a national icon of voting restrictions and disenfranchisement. The Center for American Progress has listed the Sunshine State among their list of the five worst states for voting rights.