It’s important to the credibility of Florida elections that only eligible voters are allowed to cast votes. But when partisan politics creeps into the process — as it has twice since Gov. Rick Scott was elected and before that during former Gov. Jeb Bush’s two terms— elections officials, not tainted voter rolls become the larger threat to that credibility.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the suspension of a controversial voter purge due to concerns about changes to a federal homeland security database the Division of Elections planned to use to verify voters’ citizenship. Many county supervisors of elections had expressed misgivings about potential mistakes that would incorrectly purge eligible voters from their rolls.
“I politely informed the secretary that Florida could not afford to repeat what happened in 2012,” Pasco County elections supervisor Brian Corley told The News Service of Florida.
Democrats, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida League of Women Voters all cheered the suspension of the purge, which they correctly characterized as a voter suppresion effort to help Republicans in elections. We trust Republicans would be equally appalled if a purge pushed by a Democratic administration targeted reliably GOP voters for removal from voter rolls. Mistakes in a similar purge prior to the 2012 election led to more than 180,000 legal voters being targeted for potential removal from the voter rolls. After that list was whittled down to 2,600 voters, of which 85 were found to be ineligible to vote and dropped from the rolls, according to the News Service of Florida. With an Orwellian flourish, Scott and his secretary of state dubbed the latest purge “Project Integrity.”
Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said, “This represents a major victory for the people of Florida who have suffered so many voter suppression efforts under the Rick Scott administration.”
LWVF President Deirdre Macnab issued a statement reading, “Independently elected Supervisors of Elections are already standing sentry on making sure that only eligible citizens are voting. Programs like ‘Project Integrity’ have proven time and time again to disproportionally impact minority voters and erroneously disenfranchise those that are eligible.”
That sounds about right.
Claims of widespread voter fraud are essentially fraudulent themselves. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and other researchers routinely debunk exaggerated claims of voter fraud. In its report, “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” the center concludes “voter fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly non-existent and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.”
Scott faces voters in the November elections. If he wins, his secretary of state will relaunch Project Integrity after the federal database is revised in 2015.
If he loses, the voter purges, which Democratic gubernatorial candidates Nan Rich and Charlie Crist have criticized, will end. Nothing better highlights the fact the purges are an electorial strategy not an election credibility crisis.