Editorials

A vote for democracy

CASTING A BALLOT: Residents use touch-screen machines during the first day of early voting in the 2008 presidential primary at the Stephen P. Clark in Miami.
CASTING A BALLOT: Residents use touch-screen machines during the first day of early voting in the 2008 presidential primary at the Stephen P. Clark in Miami. Getty Images

If Gov. Scott really means what he said — “Our goal continues to be 100-percent participation by eligible voters and zero-percent fraud” — then he’ll get behind a bill that would create an online voter-registration system in time for the 2016 elections.

Last week, Mr. Scott threw in the towel and announced that his administration would not appeal a federal court ruling that Florida sought to purge the rolls of supposed ineligible voters too close to the 2012 presidential election.

The whole purge fiasco was a mess from the beginning, and state leaders’ motives are suspect. And while no one should tolerate Floridians who are ineligible to vote doing so, no one should want voters who have every right to cast a ballot denied that right. Both are a perversion of the democratic process. But in pursuing the former, state officials were content to trample over the constitutional rights of the latter. And politics, plain and simple, appeared to be at the bottom of it. The rules seemed designed to snag black and Hispanic voters, young voters and the elderly, many of whom, of course, would support President Obama’s reelection.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Gov. Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner cited rampant fraud as the reason for the purge. After botching the process, and ticking off elections supervisors throughout the state, Mr. Scott and Mr. Detzner gave up. It didn’t help that U.S. military veterans, including one who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, were tagged as ineligible. Two women from Miami-Dade County, Karla Vanessa Arcia and Melande Antoine, eventually filed suit when they found out that they were on the state’s purge list. Both of them are naturalized U.S. citizens.

And President Obama won anyway.

Then, in 2013, state officials, unchastened and unenlightened, tried to purge the rolls again. That time, county elections supervisors said, Forget it, we’re not playing ball.

After all this wasted time, Mr. Scott’s decision not to appeal the finding of a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta says state officials have come to their senses. And they should keep the momentum going.

“We’ve never seen the benefit of going through that,” Maribel Balbin said of the purge attempts. Ms. Balbin is the president of the League of Women Voters in Miami-Dade County. “We want to see an increase in voters,” she told the Editorial Board.

That’s the right goal. In order to realize it, there must also be an increase in voter registration, especially among young voters. “I register people,” said Ms. Balbin. “When you give young people a piece pf paper and a pencil, they look at you like, ‘What?!’” She says that the League supports Senate Bill 228, filed by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

The state Division of Elections would establish a secure website to accept voter-registration applications starting Jan. 1, 2016. Applicants would submit driver’s license numbers or Florida identification numbers that would be compared with information maintained by the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The bill merits serious consideration to determine how to best develop a secure and effective site — remember the Obamacare rollout? — and to address privacy concerns.

Now that Mr. Scott sees the benefit of broader participation in this democratic process, his leadership on the bill is the perfect way to put his progressive stance into action.

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