Dark mutterings about voter suppression and underhanded politics have been dogging Florida’s bungled campaign to excise non-citizens from the voter registration rolls.
Of course, someone — someone in a charitable mood — could shrug off this mess as innocent ineptitude.
While some non-citizens indeed seemed to have cast votes in past elections, a discomfiting percentage of the 2,631 supposedly illicit voters that the Florida Secretary of State told county elections supervisors to zap from their rolls this month turned out to be actual citizens (including a 91-year-old Brooklyn-born veteran of the Battle of the Bulge). Ken Detzner, best known as a beer-industry lobbyist before Gov. Rick Scott picked him to take over as secretary of state in February, admitted Thursday that his office’s “ability to validate a person’s legal status as up-to-date was limited.”
Perhaps his office should have thought of that earlier. The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections found the discrepancies so disconcerting that it on Friday it advised members to suspend the purge. “We’re erring on the side of voters,” said Associated President Vicki Davis.
And it could have been just another unhappy coincidence that Detzner’s office also forgot about the state’s obligations under the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, before going ahead willy-nilly with his voter purge, particularly a voter purge based on a list that was 58 percent Hispanic. On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division sent their least favorite beer lobbyist a letter, reminding him that federal law requires that major voting changes must first be reviewed by the U.S. Attorney General or a federal judge.
The letter from Justice also warned that the 1993 law requires that a state “shall complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.” With the state’s congressional primary election set for Aug. 14, Florida has blown the deadline. The error-plagued list of potentially illegal voters went out May 8, but the deadline (counting 90 days back from Aug. 14) to finish up Detzner’s purge would have been May 16.
But Detzner was a beer lobbyist (though he did hold this same job briefly, back in 2003), not a math whiz. His office’s flubs might have been utterly innocent. Small beer, as they say in the business.
Someone, feeling charitable, might conclude that none of voter problems necessarily indicate some underhanded plan by Florida Republicans to game the November elections. Except that on the very same day that the letter from the Justice Department showed up in Tallahassee, a federal judge across town issued an injunction against another bit of state meddling with the voter rolls. He said aspects of the state’s controversial 2011 law aimed at voter-registration groups were “harsh and impractical.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s order said the provision of the law (among other restrictions) that requires registration groups to turn in new voter registration forms within 48 hours of getting them or face up to $1,000 in fines amounted to “a virtually impossible burden.”