Bousquet: Gov. Rick Scott cuts state losses in long voting fight

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has dropped his appeal of a federal court order that said the state's efforts to purge the voter rolls of suspected noncitizens during the 2012 presidential campaign violated a federal law that prohibits “systematic” removals less than 90 days before a federal election. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has dropped his appeal of a federal court order that said the state's efforts to purge the voter rolls of suspected noncitizens during the 2012 presidential campaign violated a federal law that prohibits “systematic” removals less than 90 days before a federal election.EVE EDELHEIT | Times
Published February 23 2015
Updated February 24 2015

Gov. Rick Scott doesn't like to lose.

But he lost an important court case dealing with voting rights and last week he decided to cut his losses, along with those of Florida taxpayers who have footed the bill for more than 2 ½ years.

Scott dropped his appeal of a federal court order that said the state's efforts to purge the voter rolls of suspected noncitizens during the 2012 presidential campaign violated a federal law that prohibits "systematic" removals less than 90 days before a federal election. And he issued a statement that signaled a new willingness to work with county elections supervisors, who opposed the purge.

"Florida is in an excellent position to conduct fair elections," Scott's statement said. "I am confident that the 2016 presidential election cycle will put Florida's election system in a positive light thanks to the improvements made by our supervisors of elections, the Legislature and the Department of State."

As a result, Scott is facing criticism from the right.

On National Review Online, John Fund, who's also a co-author of a book on voter fraud, writes: "By abandoning the vote-integrity legal battle he had waged for years just when victory was probably one appeal away, he has ensured that the problem of non-citizen voting will grow and he has weakened officials in other states who are still determined to address the problem."

The purge effort, dubbed "Project Integrity" by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, was fraught with problems from the outset. County supervisors of election are just as adamant as Scott that the rolls be free of ineligible voters, but they are equally horrified at the thought of taking away a legitimate citizen's right to vote. They were aghast at the sloppiness of the data the state provided, and voting rights groups marched into federal court.

The state prevailed in the first round before U.S. District Judge William Zloch, but the groups appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where two members of a three-judge panel -— both appointees of President Barack Obama — said the state's efforts to rid the rolls of noncitizens was "far from perfect."

To election supervisors, that was putting it mildly.

"The data provided to us by the Florida Department of State lacked complete, credible and accurate data," Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said Monday.

Arcia vs. Detzner featured as plaintiffs two women from Miami-Dade County, Karla Vanessa Arcia of Nicaragua and Melande Antoine of Haiti. Both are naturalized U.S. citizens and registered to vote, but the state tried to take away their right to vote.

Florida's original 2012 list of about 180,000 suspect voters was based on driver's license data. The state whittled that list to 2,600, then to 198, and in the end about 85 voters were removed from the rolls.

For Scott, the result can't be what he had hoped.

"We applaud (Scott's) decision," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, one of Scott's toughest critics. "(Detzner's) efforts were a micromanaging of a process that is done every day by our independently elected supervisors of election."

The victorious plaintiffs now want the court to order the state of Florida to pay all of their legal fees, which total $346,000.

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