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Florida’s Tea Party Government Picks Voter Purge Fight With Justice Department

Like 2000, Florida is poised to use bad data to purge legal voters.

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But we must remember that this is a Tea Party argument and its political fantasy—that hoards of non-citizens are poised to vote and steal the election for Obama. The Tea Party depends on its members sharing a sense of victimhood and feeling aggrieved, even as it would bully others and shred their rights as registered voters in order to win elections. Detzner’s spokesman Chris Cate told AlterNet that even if the state’s purge stopped one illegal voter, then it would be worthwhile—adding that his office has an obligation to fulfill “statutory requirements” and to administer clean elections.

Cate was asked, what will happen when Florida mistakenly removes legal voters—as was almost the case in Miami-Dade County, where out of 1,600 letters sent to people telling them that they would be taken off voter rolls unless they presented proof of citizenship, more than 500 already had replied and presented proof? Cate replied that the state has been “working on this issue for a year,” has “a due process in place,” and that any legal voter would be “reinstated.”

“We are not aware of anyone who has been wrongly removed,” Cate said, saying the 500 people in Miami who presented proof of citizenship never lost their voting rights. “If somebody was erroneously removed, they would be reinstated,” he said. “They would be given a provisional ballot. And once they contact their Supervisor of Elections with proof of citizenship, that ballot would be counted.”

The problem with the provisional ballot remedy is that it is not a fair solution. Surveys of Florida county election offices after the 2008 presidential election done by voting rights groups such as the NAACP, Voter Action and Advancement Project, found that people issued provisional ballots almost never returned with documentation in the immediate aftermath of voting, when there is a small window to ensure their vote counts.

The remedy Cate describes for anyone who is incorrectly purged—getting a provisional ballot and presenting citizenship proof at country election offices—shifts the burden to voters to fix a problem that they did not create.

Complicating the voting process deters voters—and right-wingers know that. They also know poll workers, who are volunteers, struggle with ever-changing voting procedures. This week in Wisconsin, an election protection hotline run by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law received 1,500 calls about poll workers who were confused by new minimum residency rules even though Wisconsin has same-day voter registration. Some eligible voters, notably students, did not get ballots, the committee said.

What is going on in Florida is that paranoid Tea Party Republicans, led by Gov. Scott, are targeting a problem that is all-but non-existent -- the imagined hoards of non-citizen voters. They are using incomplete or inaccurate data that has resulted in hundreds of legal voters already showing up to preserve their voting rights. And they are blaming Washington for delaying the next steps in their alleged non-citizen purge (DOJ) and for not giving them the data (DHS) that they need to screen 180,000 names.

“DHS has repeatedly ignored or rebuffed Florida’s efforts to gain access to the SAVE [Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements] database—access that was necessary for successful and accurate completion of Florida’s efforts to ensure the integrity of its voter registration rolls,” said Detzner’s June 6 letter to the DOJ’s Herren. “For your reference, I have attached to this letter a chain of emails dating back nine months [his italics], which demonstrates DHS’s refusals and delays in this regard.”

That paragraph is outrageous, because Florida’s motor vehicle agency, which is not a part of its executive branch and has been registering voters for years, already has the SAVE database and has been using it for drivers’ license purposes. Courtney Heidleberg, Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle Department spokesman, told that to AlterNet last week. Her agency’s attorneys last Wednesday decided not to use the SAVE database for voter registration purposes, she said, saying their contract with DHS prohibited it.