Commentary: Florida Gov. Scott's voters purge has flawed process, politics

The Miami HeraldJune 15, 2012 

The hurricanes forming in the Atlantic aren’t the only stalkers Floridians face heading into summer and fall. There’s another brutal season brewing: Presidential elections.

In our key swing state, both Republicans and Democrats will be hurling all sorts of flying debris in misguided and divisive efforts to win — or suppress — votes.

Surviving the predictable party-line moves will require sturdy shutters.

Amid the most dangerous rubbish being hurled about is the voter purge mandated by Gov. Rick Scott. On its face it doesn’t seem so ominous, with a 2,700-person list of potential noncitizens, an infinitesimal percentage of the voter rolls. But given the governor’s history of also attempting to limit voter registration drives, it is at best suspicious.

It goes without saying that only U.S. citizens should vote. But Scott’s voter purge seems politically motivated, not to mention flawed in process and execution, and unfairly targeted at the poor and minorities.

The governor cares not that practically every supervisor of elections in the state, whose job is to safeguard the legitimacy of the voter rolls, has refused to follow his mandate to proceed with the purge using a citizenship status list from the Florida driver license database. The list has so far yielded about 140 noncitizens on the rolls, and of those, about 50 voted.

The letter demanding proof of citizenship to those 2,700 people, however, has upset legitimate voters, one of them a decorated war veteran who called to task the Republican governor.

The governor cares not that he’s spending taxpayer dollars in a legal fight with the federal government, which has stepped in to stop him from violating the people’s right to vote, first with a letter to cease the purge, and then with a lawsuit.

The federal government is right to challenge Scott.

But the U.S. Justice Department too has a political stake in this, as the Democratic president is running for re-election, University of Miami professor Joseph E. Uscinski tells me. Whoever wins Florida usually wins the election.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise that the state and the federal government are suing each other because voting is a very controversial topic and complicated, and the state and federal governments have concurring powers over voting,” Uscinski says. “The Constitution leaves it up to both the state and the national government to legislate it, so there shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s going to be a conflict between the two.”

I wish the voter purge were about process, jurisdiction and technical matters, but it’s too suspiciously close to elections, and a disenfranchised part of the population stands to lose their right to vote for not responding in a timely manner to a letter demanding proof of citizenship.

What many of us see in the voter purge is a modern-day version of the ugly Southern governor who stands in the way of people’s rights, this one using the favorite Republican chant of “Fraud!” (a favorite target always being poor-immigrant fraud; it’s seldom white-collar fraud.) This is demagoguery of the worst kind, the kind we’re likely to see more of in elections.

At least hurricane season has an expiration date.

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