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  1. Opinion

Results show lack of credibility in voter purge

Published Sep. 14, 2012

180,506. 2,625. 207. The difference in those three numbers reflects how recklessly Gov. Rick Scott's administration went about purging the voter rolls and suppressing the vote of minorities and the poor. What initially appeared to be a flood of illegal voters has become a trickle at most. A settlement with a coalition of voting rights groups announced this week will protect the rights of thousands of Floridians who were misidentified by the state as potential illegal voters. But county elections supervisors should proceed with caution before they remove from the rolls even those the state now claims it is absolutely, positively certain are illegal. This governor has been wrong before, and his credibility remains suspect.

At Scott's direction to root out illegal voters despite no evidence of rampant fraud in Florida, state elections officials initially compared lists of registered voters with driver's license data. Never mind that noncitizens who are legally in this country get driver's licenses but cannot vote. Never mind that the driver's license data is not updated when noncitizens become citizens. The state cranked out a list of 180,506 names of potential noncitizens and went from there.

From that pool of names, the state sent 2,625 names this spring to local supervisors of elections as potential illegal voters. It came as no surprise that the Republican governor's list included more Democrats than Republicans or that about six in 10 were Hispanic. Kurt Browning, the former secretary of state who started the process before resigning to run for Pasco County school superintendent, said he never would have sent that list out because it was so suspect. The Justice Department demanded the state stop the purge in May, and days later county elections supervisors stopped it themselves after finding so many citizens on the list that they refused to continue such a flawed effort.

Now little more than seven weeks from the general election, the Scott administration is determined to keep going to prove a point and save face. It is sending to county elections supervisors the names of 207 registered voters that it claims have been confirmed as noncitizens by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database. The supervisors are being trained to use the federal database, and they should verify the information themselves before beginning the process of removing any of these individuals from the voting rolls. The Scott administration's handling of this entire purge has been so inept and its motives so suspect that it cannot be trusted as it tries to regain some measure of credibility.

Even now, there are unresolved issues. A federal judge still must decide whether this violates a federal law that precludes voter purges within 90 days of an election, which it clearly does. Another federal judge must decide whether the use of the federal database should be precleared with the Justice Department.

No registered voters should be on the rolls illegally. But less than 8 percent of the voters who were sent notices this summer that they were being kicked off the voting rolls appear likely now to be noncitizens. And those 207 represent less than two one-thousandths of 1 percent of Florida's 11.4 million registered voters. The Scott administration is declaring victory, but the real winners are the voting rights groups and the county elections supervisors. They helped uncover that the Republican governor was targeting legal voters and suppressing the vote of minorities and the poor who tend to vote Democratic. They are the ones who spoke up for American citizens who risked losing their rights to vote. And they are the ones who have to remain vigilant.

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