Friday, February 23, 2018
Editorials

Behind Scott's rhetoric, voter suppression

In St. Petersburg, Democrat Joanna Buck was briefly removed from the voter rolls because the Florida native was on a state list of suspected noncitizens. In Tampa, Haitian-American Murat Limage received a threatening letter from elections officials because he popped up on the list of noncitizens even though he became a U.S. citizen nearly two years ago. In Broward County, Democrat Bill Internicola received a similar letter demanding he prove his citizenship or be removed from the voting rolls. Never mind that the 91-year-old Internicola served in World War II, received a Bronze Star and has been voting for decades.

These are among the U.S. citizens whose voting rights Gov. Rick Scott isn't concerned about as he continues to defend his flawed purging of the voter rolls. Scott declared on Monday in South Florida that "the debate is over" because the stalled effort has identified a handful of noncitizens out of more than 11 million registered voters. There is no debate about this: The Republican governor appears determined to systematically suppress the vote of Democrats, minorities and low-income Floridians who don't support him or his narrow-minded policies.

Both the U.S. Justice Department and the county supervisors of election, who are both Republicans and Democrats, have called a stop to the purge because it is so flawed. From a state-generated list of nearly 2,700 suspected noncitizens, hundreds are turning out to be U.S. citizens and only a relative handful are confirmed noncitizens and ineligible to vote. No wonder the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the state Friday on behalf of Limage and another Hillsborough County resident who also is a U.S. citizen but wound up on the state's list.

Don't be fooled by the governor, who has transformed his assault on voters' rights into a political assault on President Barack Obama. Scott whipped up a tea party rally Sunday in Tallahassee and urged supporters to demand that the Obama administration provide access to a Department of Homeland Security program that checks various federal databases. That inspired a tea party leader to warn that Democrats have been known to steal elections. The governor's rhetoric about illegal voting and noncitizens is stirring up his support among conservative, predominately white groups for a purge of voters who are disproportionately minority and poor. Florida deserves better leadership than that.

Despite Scott's attempt to deflect blame for this fiasco from his administration to Obama's, there is no evidence that the Homeland Security system is the magic solution for Florida's problem. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee last week that the database does not include people who were born in this country. It lists only immigrant status, so its use would be limited. Citizens such as Joanna Buck and Bill Internicola would still be on the state's flawed list even if the Homeland Security system was used.

Scott's administration sued the federal government on Monday to use the federal system, so the courts will have to resolve that disagreement. But the broader issue here is not Homeland Security, and it's not that anyone believes noncitizens should vote in Florida elections. The issue is that the governor of Florida is defying federal law and jeopardizing the voting rights of U.S. citizens.

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