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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Editorials

State needs to listen before purging voters

Published:

Forgive the state’s supervisors of elections for being more than a little testy.

The state’s effort to purge ineligible voters from the rolls last year turned into an unmitigated disaster, and the supervisors were left to deal with the mess.

Fast-forward to this year and a renewed effort by the state to target ineligible voters. Secretary of State Ken Detzner plans to hold a series of meetings with supervisors to get their thoughts on the process moving forward.

Detzner needs to listen closely, and make certain the state provides the supervisors with the paperwork needed to prove someone should be kicked from the voter rolls.

“I hope round two is a whole lot more accurate and professional than round one because that was amateur hour,” Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley told the News Service of Florida. “That was embarrassing.”

Embarrassing not only for the supervisors, but for the entire state.

The nation watched as the effort to identify ineligible voters careened off track. Using motor vehicle data, the state forwarded about 2,700 names of potentially ineligible voters to the elections supervisors with little evidence to back up their suspicions. After fielding angry phone calls from eligible voters wrongly placed on the list, the supervisors stopped participating in the charade.

The Department of Justice ordered the purge be stopped, and civil rights groups sued, claiming the list targeted minorities and violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But the suit was dismissed this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the act.

That opened the door to the state’s renewed effort this year.

Supervisors have a duty to prevent somebody from voting who isn’t eligible, and there is nothing wrong with auditing the voter rolls for fraud. But the state’s slipshod method wrongly targeted thousands of eligible voters, and left the state open to criticism that it was attempting to scrub Hispanic and black voters from the rolls who traditionally vote Democratic rather than Republican, the party of Gov. Rick Scott and the state’s legislative leaders.

The ratio of names mistakenly on the list was inexcusable. In Hillsborough County, the 72 names the state forwarded resulted in one voter being removed from the rolls. Scott blamed the federal government, saying its refusal to grant access to the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database hindered the state’s efforts.

That database is now available to the state. But elections supervisors aren’t sure how much it will help.

Supervisors take their purging duties seriously. When they have proof they act. For example, over the course of 18 months in Hillsborough County starting in 2011, 1,500 felons were removed from the rolls because local officials had the paperwork to back up their claims.

If Detzner delivers another list of names without the paperwork to back it up, he can expect another revolt from the supervisors. And another failed campaign to scrub the voter rolls.

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