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  1. Opinion

Scott's shameless voter suppression effort

Published Sep. 27, 2012

Less than a week before general election ballots are mailed to voters, Gov. Rick Scott's administration has sent another error-riddled list of potentially ineligible voters to county elections supervisors. The governor's determination to suppress the votes of minorities and low-income Floridians is surpassed only by his administration's ineptitude. If the courts don't put a stop to this clumsy charade, elections supervisors should not remove a single voter from the rolls without personally reviewing every file themselves.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Florida, and Scott's search for ineligible voters is looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Out of more than 11 million registered voters, state officials started with a list of potential suspects of more than 180,000. Then they sent a list of 2,625 suspects to elections supervisors that was so flawed the supervisors put a stop to the purge effort. Then the state agreed to abandon that list, ran names through a federal database of noncitizens and finally emailed a list Wednesday of 198 potentially ineligible voters. That's 198 out of 11,446,540 registered voters.

After all of that, the state's list still cannot be trusted. In Hillsborough County, the number of suspects has dropped from 72 to two — and both of those names already have been removed from the voter registration rolls. In Pinellas County, the number dropped from 36 to five. Two of those already have been removed from the rolls and two others have remained on the rolls because their status is uncertain. It's even more of a mess in South Florida, where 119 are on the lists in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The Miami Herald reports some of the residents on those lists insist they are citizens, some acknowledge they are not and some who records show have voted in previous elections deny that they did. No one should vote illegally, and anyone who does should face criminal charges. But this is not a responsible way to ensure the integrity of voting rolls that turn out to be very well managed by county elections supervisors.

With overseas ballots already out and mail ballots set to be sent Tuesday, there is no time to do this right. Elections supervisors have to do their own research on each voter on the state's list, and they do not even have access yet to the federal database to check the state's work. Then they must send certified letters to those they believe are potential noncitizens, who have 30 days to show proof that they are citizens and eligible to vote. Good luck getting all of this done before someone votes by mail or before the Nov. 6 election. The rights of a citizen to vote should not be chilled by a threatening letter that turns out to be based on wrong information as ballots are being distributed.

It is no surprise that the state's list of potentially ineligible voters is disproportionately filled with Democrats, Hispanics and African-Americans. What is surprising is that a Republican governor who claims to represent all Floridians and demands data-driven results stubbornly refuses to abandon such a fundamentally flawed, unfair effort. As Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Thursday, "I'm so sorry Florida is doing this right now. This does not reflect positively on Florida's election process.''

No, it doesn't. This is shameless voter suppression insisted upon by the governor. It it is exactly the reason why federal law prohibits voter roll purges within 90 days of an election, and the courts should stop this fiasco before it goes any further. If a judge won't, it will be up to county elections supervisors once again to protect legitimate voters from their state government.

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