Ruth: Voter suppression, not fraud, is Florida's problem

Published Aug. 17, 2016

Judging by the blustering rantings of Donald Trump, you would be forgiven if you think the Nov. 8 election will be more rigged than the campaign of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who rode into the Egyptian presidency with 97 percent of the vote defeating a camel, the Sphinx and Steve Martin's King Tut.

Fixed elections conjure up images of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley waiting until the last moment to decide how many ballots to toss into the Chicago River to throw the outcome of the 1960 presidential race to John Kennedy. It does bring a wistful tear of chicanery to one's eye.

In reality, instances of voter fraud are virtually nonexistent these days in the United States. Or consider the findings of Loyola University Law School professor Justin Levitt, whose analysis of electoral trends between 2000 and 2014 could find only 31 instances of credible voter fraud out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.

It's not the idea of dead people showing up at the polls, or noncitizens voting, or ballot box stuffing that threatens the integrity of our elections. It is the on-going efforts by government to engage in voter suppression to deny citizens their right to participate in elections.

And you would be hard pressed to find a more diligent disciple of voter suppression than Gov. Rick Scott, who appears to value the icky prospect of people casting free and fair votes with all the enthusiasm of confronting a testy constituent at Starbucks, who called him an . . . well, it wasn't nice.

Two years ago, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined the Scott administration's ham-handed 2012 effort to purge 180,000 Floridians from the voter rolls was illegal. And stupid too, since the assault on the voting rights of Floridians only found 85 suspect voter registrations across the entire state.

Scott also has attempted to reduce early voting days. Because if you start making it easier for more people to vote, the next thing you know people might actually vote. Where does this democracy balderdash end?

For at least 1.5 million Floridians, all this needless, senseless democracy claptrap ends at the governor's desk. That's the number of former felons who continue to be denied their right to vote in the state because Scott and the Cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — regard themselves as a Star Chamber of Disenfranchisement.

Only a handful of states do not restore a felon's right to vote after the completion of a sentence unless the person applies for clemency. Not surprisingly, Florida's bureaucratic process to restore those rights is among the most onerous in the nation.

As the Times/Herald Tallahassee ureau's Mary Ellen Klas has reported, during his time as governor Charlie Crist made the clemency process less daunting. The result was 155,000 former felons who had been convicted of nonviolent offenses had their voting rights automatically restored.

Scott had different ideas. On his myopic watch for the past six years, Klas noted, only 2,000 former felons have had their voting rights restored. And things are unlikely to get better. Putnam and Atwater favor considering a change in the system. So does Bondi, sort of, who told Klas she still wants convicted felons to ask for their voting rights to be restored. How peel me a grape of the attorney general. Scott, through a minion, told Klas he does not support any changes to denying felons who did their time and repaid their debt to society from actively engaging in an act of citizenship.

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The reluctance of Scott to commit the unpardonable Tallahassee sin of doing the right thing has nothing to do with law, or order, or crime, or punishment, or justice. This is about the fear that if Floridians with felony convictions were allowed to vote they might not cast a Republican ballot.

At the moment, there are 10,464 former felons who have petitioned the governor and Cabinet to restore their voting rights. They are putting their trust in the system, naively believing Scott will give them a fair hearing to fully participate in democracy.

Instead they will discover they are pawns threatening Scott's political hubris — denied a right to vote not because of their criminal history but rather how they might vote.

Now there's some overly ripe voter fraud for you.