Why the Next Florida Voter Purge Will Be Different From the Last

After a failed attempt at clearing the voting roll of noncitizens in 2012, can Florida present evidence that this is a problem before the 2014 election?

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Joe Skipper / REUTERS

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Without the threat of immediate Department of Justice backlash, Florida officials are set to revisit the removal of noncitizens from voter rolls before the 2014 election. Although previous purge efforts have been thwarted, this time it just might work.

State officials in 2012 claimed to have a list of 182,000 voters who were ineligible to vote because of their citizenship status, yet still appeared on voter rolls. After further investigation, the list dwindled to a mere 198 across Florida. At the time, the state compared lists from the Department of Motor Vehicles that named licensed drivers who weren’t U.S. citizens to lists of people registered to vote. Florida, like many states, permits illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Now the State Department says it will develop procedures based on information gathered through a federal citizenship database known as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program (SAVE), a process perceived to be more accurate. “We are now able to assess and further develop appropriate procedures before implementing responsible measures that ensure due process and the integrity of Florida’s voter rolls,” Maria Matthews, director of the state’s elections, said in an e-mail to election supervisors last Friday.

(MORE: Viewpoint: The Real Proof of Citizenship)

Opponents of the effort in 2012 claimed it targeted and intimidated minority voters, particularly Hispanics. According to a report by the Miami Herald, when the list was reduced to 2,600 people in May 2012, 58% of the identified noncitizens were Hispanic, though they make up 13% of the state’s 11.3 million registered voters.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, in partnership with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Department of Justice filed separate lawsuits against the state, saying the purge violated the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act, respectively. However, after the Supreme Court decision that invalidated a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, the district court in Tampa dismissed the ACLU lawsuit, freeing the state to further pursue the effort to clear voter rolls of noncitizen voters. “This is all part of our ongoing and continuing efforts to identify potentially ineligible registered voters, regardless of the basis for ineligibility,” Matthews said.

Voter purges are a common practice, with the Brennan Center for Justice reporting that 39 states and the District of Columbia dropped over 13 million people from voter rolls between 2004 and 2006 in efforts to ensure the accuracy of voting lists. Voters can be dropped for a number of reasons including dying, moving or appearing twice on the list.

The action has been the target of a backlash in Florida because of the impact the 2012 purge attempt had on Hispanics and Democrats, and because of a previous attempt in 2000.

Before the 2000 presidential election, over 1,000 voters were wrongfully dropped from voting rolls as a result of an effort to clear registered-voter lists of convicted felons. On Election Day, many of the dropped voters showed up to vote but were turned away from the polls.

(MORE: DOJ Makes First Move Against States After Voting Rights Ruling)

Because of the state’s past and Governor Rick Scott’s track record, the ACLU of Florida is skeptical. “It certainly will help that they’re starting with a more accurate database,” Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, tells TIME. “I don’t think that the state has learned from the mistakes of last time. They’ve learned enough to try to use different rationale to cover their goals, which is to make it as difficult as possible for the disfavored and minority groups to vote.”

Scott originally began his voter-purge effort on the basis that there were throngs of noncitizens participating in elections, rationale that appeared to be disproved by the small number of noncitizens who ended up on the final list of registered voters. “We know from just a small sample that an alarming number of noncitizens are on the voter rolls, and many of them have illegally voted in past elections,” Scott said in a June 2012 statement.

“We have always taken the position that benefit of the doubt goes to the voter, not to the state,” Ron Labasky, general counsel for the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, tells TIME. “No voters are removed unless we’re very comfortable with their eligibility status.”

This time around, the state will be using the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ citizenship database, SAVE, to determine the status of voters.

In 2011, Scott requested that the Department of Homeland Security grant Florida access to SAVE. The governor later sued the department for access, which it received in July 2012.

According to the Stanford Law Review, however, SAVE still runs the risk of disenfranchising certain groups, including those who appear in DMV records as noncitizens and citizens who happen to have the same name as illegal immigrants.

Labasky says that if SAVE is properly utilized, the purge process can go a lot more smoothly this time around.

“Anybody whose status is in question is potentially losing a legal right guaranteed under the Constitution,” Labasky says. “This effort may be successful in the context that we will have better-quality information to work with and potentially move forward on.”

MORE: States Eye Voting Obstacles in Wake of High-Court Ruling

14 comments
dcmike
dcmike

To stop voter fraud, you must first find & stop fraudulent voters!

Also, do we really need the votes of those so out of it they can't prove who they are? Democrats are too obsessed with getting the vote of every homeless, mentally challenged and/or disinterested party that breathes.

WE ARE ELECTING A PRESIDENT HERE - AN IMPORTANT DECISION THAT IMPACTS MILLIONS

You need to show interest in the process to be taken seriously. Someone interested will take the time to legitimately register him / herself. Someone who has to be rounded up off the street and coerced into voting has no knowledge of candidates, nor any equity in the outcome of such an important process. 

There is no valid argument for super easy registration. All this does is allow corrupt partisans to round up the least productive, offer them something and buy their unqualified votes. This has been done for over a century

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tammany_Hall

Chosun1
Chosun1

It's never made sense to me that the federal government wouldn't share citizenship data with states running voter registration when citizenship is a requirement to vote in federal elections.  The federal government should be working proactively with the states to come up with a smooth method to verify citizenship status of anyone who can't prove it at the time of registration (with birth certificate, passport, etc.).  

The methods used to determine voter eligibility are rather flimsy in many states....  I still marvel at alien voters in Washington State who present their green cards to prove their identity and have their votes counted....  I also marvel at the dozens of cases in Colorado where people went to vote and their vote had already been cast in 2012.  We need to create paper trails that ensure that both those who register to vote are eligible to do so and that those who cast ballots are also eligible.  Of course, some states, like Oregon, just invite complete and total fraud with mail-in registration and mail-in voter fraud but we'll focus our outrage on Florida trying to keep its voter registrations tied to real, live citizens.  Nonsense.

reallife
reallife

How dare they!

If dead people vote in Chicago, why can't non-citizens vote in Florida?

Discrimination! Racism!

No justice, No peace!


anon76
anon76

Why are Republicans being allowed to get away with this crappy logic?  When you have an extremely low false positive rate, you don't bring in something that you know has a high false positive rate, not if you want an accurate measure from the vote.  After this shenanigan in 2000 gave us 8 years of Bush, how can anyone possibly stand aside and let it happen again?

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

Because the John Roberts and the "conservative" majority of the Supreme Court are partisan traitors? Stare decisis!

NP042
NP042

On it's face I can get behind removing people who are ineligible to vote from the voter rolls.  However, when you consider that Florida and other states are also actively trying to remove same-day voting registration, reducing or eliminating early voting, implementing rules to prevent voting times from being extended even if people are still waiting in line, etc, then it's a no-go.


I, for one, cannot support any government, regardless of party, that actively seeks to make it more difficult for people to legally exercise their right to vote.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

When you suck as a Governor than you must rig the election to disenfranchise people likely to vote against you.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

Another day, another republican led state screws its citizens. 

citizen477
citizen477

@dcmike I don't disagree with your stance. However, what you are bringing up is the ethics and morality of the act and motivations of voting. Though a just argument, it is separate and a part from the possible disenfranchisement of those who actually can vote.

dcmike
dcmike

@NP042 EXAMPLE - when you make it easier for people to graduate from high school - you produce illiterates.

When you make it TOO easy for people to vote, you get fraud - to wit, Tammany Hall. I am a Florida resident, I can't for the life of me figure why it's the business of non-Floridians how we do things!!

ahandout
ahandout

@NP042 Early voting.  You want to vote how long in advance of election day?  How about we actually vote on election day; it's not that hard for 90% of people.  Otherwise, get an absentee ballot.

roknsteve
roknsteve

@NP042 Republicans just do whatever they want in America.  They want an Amerika that's half Taliban and half Russia. 

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@NP042 Stated simply - Republicans hate Democracy. 

Which makes their effort at wrapping themselves in the flag in other contexts even more ridiculous.