Supervisors of Election Weary of State’s Renewed Push for Voter Purges
FlaglerLive | September 12, 2013
Secretary of State Ken Detzner will go on the road next month to pitch for a revived voter scrub, but supervisors of elections, caught in the crosshairs of last year’s problematic purge, and voting-rights advocates remain skeptical.
Detzner’s office announced Wednesday he would meet with supervisors in five cities to get their input into another attempt to identify and remove non-citizens from the voting rolls.
“Through transparency and the statutory due-process protection afforded to every voter, we can ensure the continued integrity of our voter rolls while protecting the voting rights of eligible voters from those who may cast an illegal vote,” Detzner said in a press release Wednesday announcing the “Project Integrity Roundtable Tour” of five cities beginning Oct. 3.
But despite the spin put on “Project Integrity” by Detzner’s office, his announcement immediately drew fire from Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, who tweeted: “There is no greater ‘voter advocate’ or ‘voter roll integrity advocate’ than a Supervisor of Elections!”
Nearly all supervisors scrapped last year’s purge — the brainchild of Gov. Rick Scott — after they discovered that the majority of more than 2,600 voters, many of whom had Hispanic-sounding last names, flagged by Detzner’s office were eligible to vote. The problematic lists included the names of naturalized citizens and even some who were born in the U.S.
A coalition of voting groups representing minorities sued the state over the purge, but the lawsuit was dismissed after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer that tossed out part of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Unlike last time, Detzner’s office is seeking supervisors’ input into the process. But initial reaction showed the supervisors remain dubious.
Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said he was contacted by Detzner’s office Tuesday and asked to provide space for a meeting, scheduled in Orlando on Oct. 7.
“All the supervisors are going to be concerned about why we’re doing it now and what has changed since the last time,” Cowles said.
Polk County elections supervisor Lori Edwards, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said local officials’ willingness to participate will depend on the integrity of the data provided by the state.
Local supervisors — who have the sole authority to scrub the voter rolls — rely on the state to provide data related to felony convictions and deaths before removing voters. Those processes involve paperwork documenting when someone becomes ineligible or dies, Edwards said.
“We’re going to repeatedly request from the Division of Elections that before they send us the information, they carefully scrutinize the data and make sure it’s reliable. Providing documentation is the key. If you can show me that they’re here on a green card, fine. Then I’ll say hey, you might not be a citizen. But if you just say they’re on some list somewhere, that’s not enough,” she said.
Like Edwards, Corley said the supervisors agree that anyone who is ineligible to vote should be removed from the rolls. The non-citizen “audit” should be a part of routine voter-list maintenance like removing dead voters or convicted felons, Corley said.
“The problem is when you go through this process of doing an audit, it’s got to be done right and devoid of the perceptions of politics. I think sadly what we saw take place last year didn’t meet that litmus test,” Corley said.
In an email to the state’s 67 supervisors sent Wednesday, Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews asked the county officials to attend the meetings in Panama City, Jacksonville, Orlando, Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale.
“These meetings are expressly to discuss this issue with you, but for the sake of transparency, the press will be notified,” Matthews wrote.
Corley gave Detzner credit for reaching out to the supervisors but said it’s too early to say whether the new process will be better.
“I hope round two is a whole lot more accurate and professional than round one because that was amateur hour. That was embarrassing,” he said.
Some critics accused Scott, who is running for another term in 2014, of pushing the non-citizen voter purge because it resonates with tea party activists and conservatives who make up his base.
But Edwards said that, if the purge is a campaign strategy, it is also flawed.
“Why would you draw attention to something that you botched so badly the last time? If this is politically motivated, it seems silly because all it’s doing is rehashing the mess they caused prior to the presidential election,” she said.
Scott blamed last year’s faulty data on President Barack Obama’s administration because the Department of Homeland Security had refused to grant Detzner access to the “System Alien Verification for Entitlements Program,” or SAVE, database. Federal officials and the state entered an agreement allowing Detzner to use the database last summer.
On Monday, representatives from five civil-rights groups — Advancement Project, Florida New Majority, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF — sent a policy statement to the 67 supervisors urging them not to rely on the SAVE database to remove voters.
Advancement Project led the lawsuit last year to stop a similar action by Detzner’s office. The state’s agreement with the Department of Homeland Security about the SAVE database also requires the state to create an appeals process for voters who are removed. But the groups noted that the appeals process has yet to be spelled out.
More than 80 percent of the individuals on last year’s list were minorities, the groups wrote on Monday.
“Based on this past experience, we are concerned that again this year, eligible voters of color will be wrongfully made to ‘show their papers’ or otherwise reprove their citizenship before they can vote,” the statement reads.
The groups continued to question the veracity of the SAVE database used to cross-reference names on Florida’s lists of registered voters, as the federal database cannot verify U.S.-born citizens or those born overseas to U.S. citizens.
“The SAVE database is not a complete or accurate list of United States citizens; therefore it is not a definitive check for whether a person is a non-citizen,” the groups stated.
League of Women Voters President Deirdre Macnab said her group “will be paying attention” to the new plan.
“The secretary will need to pack a lot of shoe polish given the track record that previous voter purges have had in Florida,” said Macnab, noting the fears that Scott’s original plan could have caused eligible voters to be disenfranchised.
–News Service of Florida