Florida’s Tea Party Government Picks Voter Purge Fight With Justice Department
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Detzner’s spokesman confirmed on Thursday that Florida’s Highway Safety agency had access to the federal SAVE data, but he said the highway agency would not share it with the executive branch. But that inconvenient political fact—revealing that Floridians in state government are not exactly pleased with their governor’s voter purge obsession—was somehow omitted from the state’s bellicose response to the Justice Department.
This political game is ugly. What makes it dangerous is not just the Tea Party obsession with non-citizen voters and false statements to federal civil rights officials, but rather that legal voters will invariably be trampled in a politically inspired stampede.
Florida’s right-wingers see no downside to casting the Obama administration as complicit in what is tantamount to vote-stealing schemes, an accusation that is on par with claims that Obama does not have an American birth certificate and is ineligible to be president—which the state of Hawaii has repeatedly refuted. It is no accident that the states making these outsized non-citizen voter claims, including Florida, are all presidential election swing-states that Obama won in 2008 and would need to win again in 2012.
But beyond the election year politics is an important reality. There is no definitive federal database concerning citizenship. For years, people registering to vote checked a box and swore by signature, under penalty of perjury, that they were citizens. Top Florida election officials know this. But they are still determined to use imperfect data, and an imprecise computer data-matching program, as the basis to remove voters—and make them prove otherwise.
“There is no comprehensive perfect database that has the information of all non-citizens,” Cate said. “But what DHS has is the best-known database with the most information… It is real-time information.”
Nobody is saying that anyone who is ineligible to vote should cast ballots. What voting rights advocates who are watching Florida are saying, however, is that the state should not use a sloppy data-matching process to purge voters, especially when Florida’s first steps toward identifying and removing "non-citizens" has targeted hundreds of legal voters. Moreover, they are saying that Florida should slow down its voter roll list maintenance process, especially given its record of large-scale mistaken purges.
However, those responses would be rational—and nothing about Florida’s behavior concerning alleged non-citizen voters can be called that. In fact, the conclusion of Florida Secretary of State Detzer’s June 6 letter to the DOJ was like a cross-examination, spitting out questions concerning the DOJ’s intentions and interpretation of voting rights law and demanding a response by June 11. This already ugly fight is going to get a lot uglier before cooler heads prevail.
Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).