In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Another election, another voter purge from Gov. Scott

Here’s a gem from the Gov. Rick Scott voter-purge files:

“We believe this is a very big step in the right direction, and we hope our success paves the way for other states.”

Those were the words of Chris Cate, spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, celebrating a GOP win in the fight with the federal government over access to a citizenship database that would lead the way to a wildly triumphant purge of the Florida voter rolls.

That was then, the summer of 2012, when Scott’s administration was doing everything possible to make it difficult for minorities — basically, Hispanics and African Americans suspected of being Democrats — to vote by curtailing voting hours and cleansing voter rolls in a misguided effort to help Republicans score a presidential win.

The state obtained the federal SAVE database — the same one election officials and civil rights leaders told them was flawed — but they went ahead with an infamous purge that ended up harassing legitimate citizens and uncovered little fraud.

The state came up with a list that embarrassingly went from 182,000 suspected non-U.S. citizens to 2,600 to 198 before the busy county supervisors of elections called off the waste of time and taxpayer resources.

Not that Scott and Detzner, his top elections official, relented.

Five weeks before the presidential election, and in violation of a federal law that bans purges 90 days before elections, Scott and Detzner were still chasing phantom noncitizens to the protest of civil rights watchdogs.

But what a difference a colossal presidential election loss makes — and the looming prospect of a tough reelection bid for Scott, when the clever bumper stickers are already surfacing: “Scott Free” — with a picture of the state of Florida.

Listen to Detzner change his office’s tune now that the boss is running in 2014:

“I accept responsibility for the effort,” Detzner says, no longer using his spokesman but speaking directly to the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, and to voters from Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale, repeating his mea culpa for the disastrous voter purge during a five-day state tour that’s nothing short of a campaign push for Scott.

“It could have been better,” Detzner says. “It should have been better.”

But does that acknowledgement mean Detzner and Scott are done trying to get Democrats off the voter rolls?

Are you dreaming?

If Scott was willing to go through all that trouble for Mitt Romney, who seemed to be doing all he could to distance himself from the Republican governor with the lowest approval ratings in modern Florida history, what wouldn’t Scott do for himself?

Here comes… incredibly, inevitably (you, reader, add the next adverb) another voter purge!

Even as he apologizes, trying to take the heat off the truly responsible party, Detzner is selling to local election officials yet another attempt to purge those suspected wrong-doers who, more often than not, turn out to be citizens.

This time, the Scott administration, so fond of code words that negate the real intentions, has come up with a dignified-sounding name, hoping it will bestow credibility upon this purge: “Project Integrity.”

This time, the state is using the same ominous-sounding — and incomplete — federal database SAVE (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements). Only the procedures for following through on verification of a voter’s legal status are vaguer, and it’s up to county election supervisors to make the final determinations.

So this time, if the purge goes awry, if naturalized citizens feel harassed and disenfranchised, they can spare the governor and his Cabinet and blame the faceless local bureaucrat.

But they’re not fooling anyone.

As Scott likes to boast, the buck stops with him. Detzner might be issuing the contrition, but he’s only a fashionista debuting Scott’s fall creations.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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