Detzner’s voter purge a losing gambit



What happens when a party simply gives up on voter persuasion?

That’s the question one could ask in the wake of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court’s finding that a voter roll purge by the Rick Scott administration in the summer of 2012 violated the National Voter Registration Act by seeking to systematically remove up to 180,000 Floridians from the voter rolls within 90 days of the 2012 election.

The purge snared two Miami women: Karla Arcia, a Nicaraguan immigrant, and Melande Antoine, who is Haitian American. Both women are naturalized U.S. citizens and very much eligible to vote. But as they prepared to vote in the August primary, they discovered that they had made Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s list, and they, along with three groups with substantial immigrant membership, filed suit.

The court also found that those groups — the Florida Immigrant Coalition, the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights and the SEIU Local 11 — were injured as well, by being forced to divert resources away from their normal activities to try to fight the impact of the purge and make sure that members of their groups were able to vote.

Detzner’s ostensible reason for the purge was to remove ineligible noncitizens from the rolls and prevent “voter fraud.” Of course, neither he nor any member of his party produced evidence that people were showing up at the polls in the Sunshine State and pretending to be someone else. And according to the attorneys who successfully litigated the women’s case, 82 percent of those who received notices challenging their eligibility were people of color.

Detzner’s original mammoth list shrank mightily after its first contact with a federal database: first to 2,600 names, and then to 198. In the end, the state of Florida yanked just 85 people off the voter rolls, though who can say whether among them were eligible voters with Hispanic or Creole surnames, like Arcia and Antoine.

Detzner tried to claim the women had no standing to sue because, ultimately, they were allowed to vote. But the court found that what his office put these women and other eligible voters through was a violation of their rights and that the women were “directly injured by it when they were wrongly identified as noncitizens.”

The court also concluded that the three organizations “also represent a large number of people, like Arcia and Antoine, who face a realistic danger of being identified in the secretary’s removal programs because of their names or status as naturalized citizens,” and that the case is still relevant, so long after the 2012 election, because “there is a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to the same action again.”

And why not? Detzner’s party has made the calculation, across the country and in Florida, that it has little hope of attracting new voters among the fast-growing Latino population. And while Haitian Americans were a key target of efforts by former Gov. Jeb Bush to boost the party’s prospects with black Americans back in 2004 when his brother was running for reelection, purges and voter ID schemes and other attempts to make it harder for minority voters to get to the polls have become the GOP’s first option to deal with the demographic hurdles they face in national elections. There simply aren’t enough white voters to sustain the party for the long term.

Like the tripling down on Obamacare “repeal” even in the wake of 7.1 million private insurance sign-ups (and another 8 million via the Medicaid expansion, plus those 26 and younger who are signed up on their parents’ plans) the Republican strategy of playing keep-away with minority voters and the franchise comes with very real risks.

The notion that the Republican Party favors disenfranchisement over outreach (or immigration reform) could ingrain in Latino voters the notion that the GOP is a hostile party uninterested in expanding the electorate to include them. And with Latino voters already favoring the healthcare law, taking the pro-choice position disproportionately and preferring Democratic economic proposals, it’s hard to see what the party has to gain by blocking access to the polls.

Detzner has tried a number of gambits, including limiting the sites where elections supervisors could accept absentee-ballot drop-offs, and he has received no harder fight than from the local elections officials themselves.

These actions aren’t happening in a vacuum. The women injured by the purge sued. And Democrats plan to rally their voters around the notion of protecting precious access to the polls.

And yet, Republicans are stuck in this groove because their increasingly alienated base demands it. Meaning that any chance of shifting from disenfranchisement to persuasion is probably moot.

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