F-L-A Governor Rick Scott's Walk On The Wild Side: Voter Suppression Is UnAmerican
Florida isn't someplace progressives normally turn for good political news. Just the other day People For the American Way was wondering aloud if Gov. Rick Scott's ALEC disenfranchisement schemes would recreate an opportunity for Romney to steal the presidential election the same way Bush did in 2000.
Do you remember the Florida debacle in the 2000 presidential race? At the time, news focused on the recount and the spectacle of the infamous “hanging chad.” But when the dust settled, America learned that the real affront to democracy was the flawed purge of eligible voters from the voting rolls in advance of the election.
The state that ultimately decided the election for George W. Bush by a mere 537 votes, hired a firm to purge ex-felons-- who had lost their right to vote according to state law-- from the voter file. But the data match was so sloppy that countless eligible voters, mostly African American, were scrubbed from the file and turned away from the polls on Election Day.
Now, under Florida’s Tea Party governor, Rick Scott, it’s happening all over again!
Florida has begun a purge of “non-citizens” from the voting rolls and reports are saying that hundreds of eligible voters have already been struck from the rolls.
Florida has already put out an initial list of more than 2,600 people identified as non-U.S. citizens and has indicated it could aim to purge up to 180,000 supposed non-citizens from the rolls ... but from all the inaccuracies we’ve seen so far, that could mean a staggering number of eligible voters being wrongfully purged and denied their right to vote.
This process is going forward with no oversight, and is all too reminiscent of the scrub orchestrated in 2000 by Secretary of State Katherine Harris under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Under Gov. Scott, Florida has already erected barriers to voter registration that hurt minority and low-income voters... now, the state’s right-wing leaders seem to be dredging up ugly tactics from the past in what looks like naked, politically motivated voter suppression.
Hundreds of eligible voters have already been scrubbed from the rolls and many more have not replied to a letter that informs them they will lose their right to vote if they don’t reply with proof of citizenship. Despite the clear inaccuracy of the purge, the burden is on registered voters to prove that they are eligible, not on the state to prove that they are not.
The editorial board of the NY Times was shocked... shocked. I mean fascists in other countries do this... but American fascists? Who could have guessed?
In Florida, where a few hundred votes can determine a presidential election, Republicans have never stopped searching for new ways to keep ballots out of the hands of minorities and poor people, groups that tend to vote Democratic. They have cut back on early voting, tried to stamp out registration drives, and imposed onerous identification requirements. (A federal judge reinstated the registration drives on Thursday.) Now, hoping to gain a new edge, Gov. Rick Scott is trying to clear voter rolls of noncitizens, a menace that only he and a few other Republican governors have been able to detect.
Last year, Mr. Scott ordered the state’s elections division to compare the rolls to the federal Homeland Security Department’s immigration database, a request the federal government sensibly refused. Then, a few weeks ago, the state pressed the Department of Motor Vehicles into comparing the voter rolls to its list of driver’s licenses, which often has out-of-date citizenship information. It came up with nearly 2,700 voters considered suspicious and sent them letters demanding that they produce proof of citizenship within 30 days if they wanted to vote.
Because both the driver’s license list and the system to match it to the voter rolls are deeply flawed, not showing naturalizations or other updates, many on the list turned out to be citizens, entitled to vote. More than 350 people in the Miami area alone came forward to dispute their presence on the list, forced to take steps to demonstrate their citizenship. One of them was Bill Internicola, who was born in Brooklyn in 1921 and earned the Bronze Star during the Battle of the Bulge. After talking to local elections officials, he was required to send a copy of his Army discharge papers.
Those who did not respond to the elections division’s letter in time may well include legitimate voters who do not speak English, or have moved, or didn’t check their mail-- all of whom will be barred from voting.
The Miami Herald found that 58 percent of the people on the list of nearly 2,700 voters were Hispanic, and 14 percent were black. Whites and Republicans were least likely to show up on the list, according to the paper.
The other two states conducting similar voter purges are Colorado and New Mexico, which, like Florida, are swing states with large Hispanic populations. New Mexico’s wasteful investigation of 64,000 “suspicious” voter registrations found only 19 cases of voters who may have been noncitizens.
Florida has a sordid history with manipulating voter rolls. In 2000 and 2004, it tried to purge felons from the rolls using wildly inaccurate lists, which had the effect of removing black voters who were not felons. As long as there is a chance of tilting the outcome of a close election, Republicans like Mr. Scott won’t stop trying.
So the good news? As the Times editors mentioned, a Federal Court threw out Scott's latest attempt to rig the elections in his state. Michael Froomkin explains what happened:
[T]hanks to a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and Rock the Vote, a federal judge in Tallahassee, no hotbed of liberalism, has issued a preliminary injunction halting enforcement of key parts of the voter-registration-suppression scheme:The statute and rule impose a harsh and impractical 48-hour deadline for an organization to deliver applications to a voter registration office and effectively prohibit an organization from mailing applications in. And the statute and rule impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional even to the extent they do not violate the [National Voting Rights Act].
This is good news, and on a quick read I found the opinion very persuasive, so I have high hopes that it would survive an appeal (although voting law is not my area, so I welcome other views).
Of course, as the Times warned, "Republicans like Mr. Scott won’t stop trying." Not with the likes of the Koch brothers and the rest of the plutocrats making it worth their while. In fact, Scott has insisted he will ignore the Justice Department's demand he stop suppressing the vote in Florida-- and that he would accelerate the voter purge. This morning, though, the Palm Beach Post reported thast all 67 state elections supervisors "will discontinue a state-directed effort to remove names from county voter rolls because they believe the state data is flawed and because the U.S. Department of Justice has said the process violates federal voting laws."