Want to fight voter fraud in Florida? Here’s an easy way, experts say

The 2018 Legislature will decide whether Florida joins partnership <br>
Florida county election supervisors Craig Latimer (Hillsborough); Wesley Wilcox (Marion) and Brian Corley (Pasco).
Florida county election supervisors Craig Latimer (Hillsborough); Wesley Wilcox (Marion) and Brian Corley (Pasco).
Published Dec. 11, 2017|Updated Dec. 11, 2017

Voting experts from Alabama to West Virginia urged Florida Monday to join 20 other states in a partnership to scrub its voter rolls before the next statewide election in 2018.

At a conference in Tallahassee, experts emphasized the benefits of data-sharing at a time when a presidential commission is looking at possible voter fraud in U.S. elections.

The event was sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank that urges more states to swap voting information to make rolls cleaner and to reduce chances of voter fraud.

In the next three months, Florida’s Legislature will decide whether the state will join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a non-partisan, non-profit consortium among 20 states and the District of Columbia, to exchange voter registration information as a way of scrubbing the voter rolls to eliminate duplicate registrations.

“It’s a good step forward,” said Secretary of State John Merrill in ERIC-member Alabama, who cited the frequent movement of voters between his state and Florida. “We still believe that the northern part of Florida is part of Alabama.”

Merrill, who was headed back to Montgomery to count the votes in Tuesday’s closely-watched U.S. Senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, said: “Today I’m happy to be anywhere.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Don Palmer, a former Florida elections chief, said that when voter rolls are clogged by duplicate registrations, it requires more time to verify voters’ IDs and can mean longer lines at the polls and more provisional ballots. “These problems flow downstream,” Palmer said.

ERIC also creates lists of voters who are eligible but not registered, by cross-matching the list of driver’s licenses with the voter rolls. Those lists could result in more people being actual voters by making it easier for third-party groups to contact specific people.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: One in four Florida voters are not registered to vote

Because Florida is a haven for winter “snowbirds” and experiences such massive in- and out-migration and movement by voters between counties, experts say it’s a natural for swapping data.

But Florida has refused to join ERIC, even though county election supervisors have repeatedly pushed for it and despite frequent claims and exaggerations by Republican lawmakers about voter fraud in cases in which people are registered in two states, a problem easily detected by ERIC.

“We want to be there yesterday,” said Marion County Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox. “It’s our Legislature that we have got to convince.”

Legislation to add Florida to ERIC have died in past years and have been filed again for the session that begins Jan. 9. The 2018 bills are HB 85 by Rep.. Ross Spano, R-Dover, and SB 276 by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton.

ERIC membership requires keeping exchanged data confidential. A court order is needed for the release of any data. Individual voters’ data is encrypted and each voter is assigned a 40-character identifier.

West Virginia, a state that faced allegations of widespread voter fraud in the 1960 presidential election won by John F. Kennedy, also is an enthusiastic ERIC member. “It’s a great program. We’re getting the cleanup that we’ve needed for decades,” Secretary of State Mac Warner said.