Voting rights watch: Florida restarts its [previously squelched] voter purge

The fallout continues. States that previously wouldn’t have dared to impose voting restrictions that disenfranchised minorities–and, of course, Democrats–are back in business. Florida is one of them. The state’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott has now revived his plan to purge Florida’s voter rolls of people suspected of not being American citizens. He tried the same tactic in 2012,  but according to Talking Points Memo, that effort was:

 … filled with errors, found few ineligible voters and prompted lawsuits by advocacy groups that argued the purge disproportionately targeted minority groups, according to the Miami Herald. Florida’s list of registered voters suspected of not being U.S. citizens shrank from 182,000 to 2,600 to 198 before the 2012 election.

“It was sloppy, it was slapdash and it was inaccurate,” Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards told the Herald. “They were sending us names of people to remove because they were born in Puerto Rico. It was disgusting.”

In the 2012 purge, eighty-seven percent of the people on the list were minorities, according to a Miami Herald analysis; 58 percent were Hispanic. According to the Miami Herald, election officials in most counties simply stopped moving to enforce the purge, saying they didn’t trust the state government’s list. (Two counties in southwest Florida have continued with the effort.) Over 500 of the 2,700 had been identified as citizens; 40 had been identified as non-citizens.  Forty.

The DOJ ordered the state to stop the purge in May [2012]. A civil rights lawyer for the DOJ argued that the effort appeared to violate both the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law that requires a 90-day period between any voter purge and and a federal election, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, under which Florida cannot make changes that affect voting in five of the state’s counties without DOJ approval.

But that was last year, before the Supreme Court shredded the Voting Rights Act, giving states a free pass to make voting more difficult in any way they chose, even if it impacted minorities [who just happen to vote mostly for Democratic candidates]. Regarding Florida specifically, the Supreme Court decision nullified a federal lawsuit in Tampa that sought to stop new searches for noncitizen voters. On the very day that the Supreme Court handed down its decision, Scott jumped right in, vowing to renew his voter-purge efforts.

Florida, as we all remember, has a dismal record on voting rights. The 2000 election was a significant low point. The state also attempted a voter purge that year. And, in 2012. Governor, Scott joined the Republican Party in a fundraising appeal that accused Democrats of defending the right of noncitizens to vote.

Did I mention that Governor Scott is up for re-election in 2014? That fact makes this a dandy time to start disqualifying voters who might cast their ballots for someone else.

According to the Miami Herald, Scott’s top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, is now creating a new list of suspected noncitizen voters by cross-checking state voter data with a federal database managed by the Department of Homeland Security.

The whole effort is rather inane: The number of illegally registered, non-citizens is clearly small, and not enough to swing an election. One Florida commentator–Chan Lowe, of the Sun-Sentinel— questions why, in today’s anti-immigrant atmosphere, a non-citizen would take the risk of registering illegally to vote:

..if you’re living here and are not a citizen, the last thing you want to do is tick off the authorities. And that’s if you’re a legal resident. If you’re an undocumented alien, you’d have to be insane to risk getting picked up because you registered to vote, of all things. It’s hard enough to get American citizens to vote in their own elections, because you can’t convince them that their single vote matters. Why would an alien think any differently

You have to wonder: Rick Scott surely knows that his voter-purge effort is going to yield very meager results. To me, it’s beginning to look more like a right-wing, dog-whistle campaign that signals to the base that Governor Scott is tough on immigration. You’d think that would be an awkward place to be in Florida, but perhaps not with Scott’s base.

Whatever his reasons, Scott’s eagerness to disenfranchise voters bears watching. And let’s not mistake it for an UNnintended consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. This is apparently what the conservative majority on the Roberts court had in mind, and this is what we’re getting.


[Editorial cartoon: Jeff Parker, 2012]