TBTimes Editorial: Don't repeat history, Gov. Scott

Published June 7, 2012

An editorial in Friday's Tampa Bay Times':

Dear Gov. Rick Scott,

Take note of this photograph. On a June day in 1963, Alabama Gov. George Wallace stood in a schoolhouse door to keep black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama. He refused U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach's request to move, stepping aside only after President John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard and ordered Wallace to let the students enroll.

This June, the governor of another Southern state is challenging the federal government's authority. Nearly 50 years after Wallace's showdown, you are standing between Floridians and their right to vote as U.S. citizens. We agree that only citizens should vote, but your approach to cleaning up the voter rolls is fatally flawed. The U.S. Justice Department and county supervisors of election have reached the same conclusion and told you to stop, yet you persist.

Gov. Scott, we do not believe you share Wallace's hateful views on race. Nor are we equating young African-American students of the '60s with noncitizens of today. But it was wrong then to deny those students their right to a public education, and it is wrong now to use an inaccurate database that could deprive U.S. citizens of their right to vote. Of nearly 2,700 voters the state identified as potentially ineligible because they were not citizens, hundreds already have proven they are citizens. Only a handful have been confirmed as noncitizens, and many Floridians who are citizens stand to lose their voting rights by not responding to threatening letters from elections officials. The practical result disproportionately affects poor and minority residents and prevents them from voting in much the same way that black students were denied entry to public schools and universities in Alabama.

Wallace spoke of states' rights and defended the indefensible by portraying the federal government as the enemy. Your administration's intemperate letter to the Justice Department strikes a similar tone. The rights of U.S. citizens to vote in Florida elections should not be compromised by your continuing political fights with the Obama administration.

Florida should not be at war with Washington, and Floridians should not have to rely on the Justice Department to prevent their rights from being compromised by their state government. Governor, we again join in the call for you to stop this flawed purging of the voter rolls. To continue this approach puts at risk the image of this state, the rights of its citizens and your own reputation.