Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Another voter purge


OUR OPINION: Election supervisors are first line of defense in protecting voting rights

Hang on to your proof of citizenship. You may need it if the state’s latest effort to purge voter rolls is as inept as the last one.

In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner launched a similar campaign that became a target of ridicule. The data they provided to county elections supervisors was riddled with errors and inaccuracies.

Some eligible voters were tossed off the rolls for no good reason. Elections supervisors, handed a list of 182,000 names by the state, were forced to scramble as the 2012 presidential election drew near. They finally threw up their hands in disgust after realizing they were on a wild goose chase.

First the list shrank to 2,600 names. Then to 198. The dubious project turned into an embarrassment for everyone concerned and helped Florida to gain a reputation as a state where elections are fair game for political maneuvering.

Even the federal judge who allowed the state to pursue the voter purge disparaged the way it was set up. “The real problem here is we’ve got a bad list and we’re messing this up,” said Federal Judge Robert Hinkle.

There were red faces all around. “It was sloppy, it was slapdash and it was inaccurate,” said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards, echoing many of her peers. “It was disgusting.”

Some voters wrongly wound up on the purge list because they were born in Puerto Rico. Others were improperly removed because they were not citizens when they obtained a driver’s license — DMV records were used as a source to gather names — but had later taken the oath of citizenship.

Sheer incompetence. Or was it something worse? The purge list was heavy with the names of Hispanics, Democrats and independents. The burden fell most heavily on urban counties with large Hispanic populations — notably, Miami-Dade County.

Now comes Round 2: Undeterred by the 2012 fiasco, the governor and Mr. Detzner have announced they’re going to do it again because they want to protect voting integrity, even though, as before, evidence of a major problem remains nonexistent.

This time, the governor and his elections chief say, they’re going to do it right, using a more accurate immigration data base supplied by the federal government. No one should be comforted by this blithe reassurance. Lists compiled by the government are often flawed.

Obviously, non-citizens don’t have the right to vote. And supervisors need to perform regular maintenance of voter registration lists to keep them up to date. But it is a disservice to the people of Florida to create the fear that the voter rolls are full of non-citizens.

The Justice Department should keep an eye on efforts to suppress voting rights in Florida. But given the Supreme Court ruling in June that undercut the Voting Rights Act, the state’s 68 election supervisors have become the first line of defense in ensuring that eligible voters are not denied access to the ballot box.

They should not remove a single person from the voting rolls simply on the basis of a list without obtaining more information. Everyone taken off the rolls provisionally should be notified and have a chance to contest the findings — well before election day.

Florida has a terrible record on voting rights — the failed 2012 purge, curtailed early voting hours, strict voter ID laws, long lines at polling places. If Mr. Scott really wants to protect voting integrity, he should focus on real problems instead of chasing phantom ineligible voters.

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