Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Voter purge a bad idea

Here we go again. Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner want to conduct another purge of Florida voter rolls.

Their attempt to purge the rolls of noncitizens in 2012 was a complete flop. Florida’s Division of Elections, which Mr. Detzner oversees, botched the purge, which was conducted in advance of a presidential election, raising justified questions about the timing, and with little evidence that a clean-up was needed. It alienated voters and angered most election supervisors who oversee voter rolls in the state’s 67 counties.

Using Florida driver license information, state officials initially came up with 182,000 potential noncitizens who were registered to vote. That number was whittled down to 2,600 and then to a measly 198, with county elections supervisors finding many errors. Snagged as noncitizens were U.S. military veterans, including one who fought at the Battle of the Bulge. State officials finally backed down and suspended the effort.

Yet here we go again — even though there is no more proof now than there was in 2012 that one is warranted. Yes, there have been isolated incidents of chicanery in obtaining absentee ballots on behalf of individual candidates, but there is no evidence of widespread efforts by the non-eligible to cast ballots.

The new purge would be done before the 2014 election for statewide offices, including for Gov. Scott, who’s seeking a second term. Our advice to Messrs. Scott and Detzner: Give it up and move on. Spend the state’s money on better uses, like restoring voting rights in a more timely manner to felons who have served their time and deserve a second chance. Or seek better ways to guarantee the right to vote for all Florida citizens.

Mr. Detzner has been trying to make the case for another purge at public meetings around the state . But he’s found himself repeatedly saying “mea culpa” for what went wrong last time.

At a meeting in Broward County last week, county election officials, citizens’ groups and immigration advocates voiced much skepticism. Especially vociferous was Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, a Democrat, who questioned the state’s new method for determining noncitizens and whether the data the state will use is flawed.

State officials plan to use a Department of Homeland Security data base called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements — SAVE. Florida won a federal court case last year allowing it to use SAVE, a list — submitted by states to the feds — of all legal noncitizens qualified to receive entitlements. During the court case, Homeland Security officials suggested that the SAVE list might not be a foolproof way to identify noncitizens.

So Ms. Bucher rightly asked if the state-submitted information was up to date and where it came from. Mr. Detzner couldn’t say which state agencies collected the data, nor how often it’s upgraded to reflect changes in individuals’ immigration status. He also didn’t know when the purge would begin or when county election supervisors would receive names of unqualified voters, which could cause chaos for supervisors busy preparing for next year’s elections.

He did promise that each nonqualified voter found will be reviewed by a state employee in a series of checks before the person’s backup documentation is sent to supervisors. That didn’t happen in 2012. None of this sounds very reassuring.

If this new purge proceeds, beware, Florida voters.

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