Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Odd time to purge voter rolls

Here we go again. Another tight presidential election, another Florida voter purge. This time Republican Gov. Rick Scott's appointed secretary of state, Ken Detzner, is targeting suspected noncitizens. The purge list, according to a review by the Miami Herald, is heavy with Hispanics, Democrats and independents, who will have to prove their citizenship and fast. Otherwise, they lose their vote.

The process raises uncomfortable comparisons to the Jeb Bush-era error-ridden felon list. That purge list was used to prevent thousands of legitimate voters from casting ballots in the 2000 presidential election — an election decided by 537 votes.

Detzner claims that 180,000 registered Florida voters may not be citizens after their names and other data were "matched" to foreign nationals in an outdated state motorist database. These voters could easily have been naturalized in the years since obtaining or renewing a driver's license or state I.D. Still, the secretary of state is sending these names, after a second vetting, to local supervisors of election for them to send warning letters to voters that they have 30 days to prove their citizenship or be dropped from the rolls.

Obviously noncitizens don't have the right to vote and shouldn't. But local supervisors of election are wondering about the suspicious timing of this purge and the imperfections in Detzner's list. Already some of the 2,700 noncitizens on the verified purge list are proving to be citizens. Which leads to the question of whether this is a pure effort to clean up the voter rolls or is there an element of suppressing minority votes?

Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer, a Republican who is a straight shooter on election matters, says that some of the records Detzner is using are too old to be reliable. Without a confirmation on citizenship one way or another from the voter, Sawyer says, he won't automatically drop anyone off the rolls. But not every local elections supervisor will be this careful.

Florida's noncitizen purge follows those in Colorado and New Mexico. Funny that this is being done by immigrant-heavy swing states with Republican secretaries of state. Both Colorado and New Mexico made a media splash with dire claims that noncitizens were registered and likely voting in large numbers. But a closer look by the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice found that those states had drawn indefensible conclusions about noncitizen voting and had refused to release evidence that backed up their claims. The allegations of voter fraud, the center suggests, were smoke and mirrors and couldn't be trusted.

The same can be said for all the dead people voting in South Carolina. That state's attorney general, Republican Alan Wilson, claimed recently that more than 900 votes had been cast by dead people. But after the South Carolina Election Commission looked into the claim, it didn't hold up. There was no evidence that anyone had fraudulently voted in the name of someone dead.

This is part of a pattern. Republicans actively gin up voter fraud claims to justify turning voting into an obstacle course to dissuade Democratic-leaning constituencies. It's what happened in Florida last year when the Legislature used voter fraud as an excuse to cut early voting days and make it harder for renters and college students to vote a regular ballot. The most disgraceful part of the law imposes steep penalties and fines on groups conducting voter registration drives that fail to meet burdensome bureaucratic rules and turn forms in within 48 hours, causing the League of Women Voters to cancel its drive.

The law so impacted minority voting that the Justice Department is opposing the controversial changes in federal court. Florida has five counties that must receive preclearance under the Voting Rights Act before changes in voting rules go into effect.

Meanwhile, there was no attempt by the Florida Legislature to tighten rules for absentee voting, which is probably the easiest way to produce a fraudulent ballot since there is no way of knowing who fills it out. Maybe this lack of interest stemmed from the fact that absentee voters tend to lean Republican, while early voters typically lean Democrat.

Trust on election issues is something Florida Republicans squandered a long time ago. This ham-handed move against alleged noncitizens is just another example of why.

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