The Scott administration’s attempt to purge the voting rolls of suspected noncitizens violates federal civil rights laws, the Justice Department warns, and the GOP-led Legislature’s law imposing a 48-hour deadline on the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and other third-party groups that hold voter registration drives is a bust, a federal judge rules.
Democrats cry voter suppression. Republicans insist they’re simply trying to prevent voter fraud. Who’s right?
The problem is the way state GOP leaders in Florida (and various other GOP-led states) are going about it. They want to “prevent” a problem that there’s no evidence even exists. It carries the stench of voter suppression in a presidential election year when Florida is among a handful of swing states key to victory for either President Obama or his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Back in the contentious presidential nail-biter of 2000, the integrity of Florida’s voting system was challenged by butterfly ballots and dimpled chads and a purge of thousands of voters the state deemed to be ineligible felons when, in fact, they were eligible to vote. Those structural problems were fixed years later by federal and state laws, with new ballot scan machines in Florida and rules that made early voting possible days before the official Election Day. The point was to have access to voting and transparency.
But now, Florida seems to be heading back to those “Flori-duh” days of purging voters who have every right to vote and finding ways to limit young people, immigrants and minorities — who typically lean Democrat — from voting with onerous rules on voter-registration drives, restrictions U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle called “risky business” for those groups that faced $1,000 in fines if they submit new voter forms past the 48-hour rule.
Judge Hinkle struck down the 48-hour limit and a requirement that voter registration groups disclose the names of volunteers who don’t even collect the forms. His injunction, issued Thursday, returns Florida to a much more flexible 10-day timeline to submit voter forms.
Gov. Scott, who set up residence in the Sunshine State only a few years ago, should be sensitive to Florida voters’ concerns about transparency, even if those voters are not from his party. He is the governor of all Floridians, after all. Appealing the judge’s decision just a couple of months before the August primary for state and congressional elections would be the wrong course.
On Thursday, the Justice Department ordered Florida to stop the effort to purge those suspected of being noncitizens, which has become a time-consuming dead end for many elections supervisors who, so far, are finding that most of the people on the “suspect” list of 2,700 are indeed Americans. In a state with 11.3 million active registered voters, this exercise of purging 2,700 becomes a fool’s errand — and a likely unconstitutional one at that.
Justice officials say Florida needs to take the purge plan to federal court or for review by the Attorney General. Plus, the National Voter Registration Act clearly shuts off purges of voters 90 days before an election, which means Florida already has missed the mark to purge for the August congressional primary.
State officials have until Wednesday to let Justice know what they will do. Leaving “Flori-duh” behind and focusing on access for all eligible voters is the smart thing to do.