Florida's Tea Party Governor Blows Smoke In War on Voters
Florida's partisan GOP-led war on perceived Democratic voting blocks is heating up in political circles, but knowledgeable election officials tell AlterNet that the latest heated rhetoric might amount to little more than face-saving antics--underscoring Republican Gov. Rick Scott's utter disrespect for voting rights and Florida's legal voters.
"Florida has declared war on voters," said Ion Sancho, Supervisor of Elections in Leon County, Florida, home to the state capital. "The party that likes to talk about personal liberty, they are asking for papers that are not necessary?"
At issue is whether Florida will be pursuing a large-scale purge of allegedly illegally registered voters before the state's 2012 primary in August and presidential election in November. In recent months, the state's top election official, appointed by the governor, has said there may be up to 180,000 non-citizens on Florida's statewide voter rolls, which contain more than 11 million people.
Late last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told Florida election officials that they could use an incomplete federal database listing citizens and non-citizens to screen voter registration records, which Gov. Scott and his appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, called a great victory. In press statements this weekend, they said that Florida hoped to use the federal data and be a model for other states--such as 2012 swing states Colorado and North Carolina.
Those declarations create great consternation and worry among voting rights advocates across the country, because Florida's initial claims of thousands of non-citizen voters was an error-filled debacle. An initial list of 1,637 people in Miami-Dade County prompted 514 people to write back to election offices with proof that they were citizens. The fact that most of the people targeted in Miami-Dade were non-white, faced additional burdens compared to average voters, and were threatened with being purged within 90 days of a federal election, prompted several federal lawsuits that are ongoing.
However, as Leon County's Sancho told AlterNet, while the governor and secretary of state are claiming a great political victory because they will have access to the federal SAVE [Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements] Program database, they are also telling the state's election officials that their initial number of 180,000 alleged non-citizens should be disregarded, and that the state will soon create a new list of alleged non-citizens.
"It looks like the state will come out with a new list in the near-future, but it could even be next year," Sancho said. "There is no indication that the election supervisors will receive any new information anytime soon. The net effect could be zero."
There are other reasons--they are more technical--why, political posturing aside, the SAVE database could not be the GOP-desired tool to purge swaths of likely Democratic voters. Under the DHS's rules, the database can only be used to identify possible non-citizens if there is a unique identifier in the federal records, such as immigration documents. That is not the same as matching the same last name, or date of birth, which can prompt false positives.
It remains to be seen just how sweeping or effective the SAVE database will be. A letter to Florida election officials from the top DHS official overseeing the SAVE program told the state that it can only use the database in limited ways for voter registration purposes--and listed five Arizona counties that already were doing so. Leslie Hoffman, Recorder of Yavapai County, said the database is mostly used to get the naturalization certificate numbers of new citizens.
In other words, despite GOP rhetoric and partisan hopes to the contrary, it does not appear to be a tool enabling voter list purges.
What progressives should remember is that the Tea Party's politics have always been to disrupt legitimate government operations--such as election administration--based on outsized and hyperbolic accusations. As Ben Hovland, a senior attorney with the Fair Election Legal Network, which has sued Florida over the threatened purge for violating two federal voting rights laws, noted on Monday, this entire exercise is a giant waste of time and money.
"At the end of the day, look at the resources going into this," Hovland said. "So let's say we find a couple of dozen non-citizens on the lists out of millions of legally register voters. Colorado has been working on this for over a year. They are not trying to get unregistered voters on their lists. They are not helping people to update their registration information. They are wasting all this time and resources on a wild goose chase only meant to scare people."
"This appears to me to be a war on legal voters," Sancho said, his voice filled with disdain. "Where are your papers, please? Prove your innocence or else you are guilty."
Stay tuned for more with this story--and the GOP's anti-voter strategy. But don't buy into their claim that there are vast numbers of illegally registered voters, or that a powerful federal database will be screening voting lists. Those claims are likely to be little more than hate-filled propaganda to discourage and deter voters. It just shows how low the most partisan Republicans will go to stay in power.