Commentary: A Florida voters 'bumble-fest'

The Miami HeraldJune 19, 2012 

First of all, it’s not really a purge.

Purges are organized, thorough and ruthlessly efficient.

Bumble-fest is a more precise term for Gov. Rick Scott’s effort to cull non-citizens from the voter rolls.

Things are so confused that only two counties in Florida are fully participating in the governor’s plan. The others are holding back because officials don’t trust the accuracy of the list of suspected non-citizen voters.

It’s no wonder why. The first list had 182,000 names and was wildly flawed. A second list, revised by the elections division, targeted almost 25,000 possible voters.

Kurt Browning, a former Pasco County elections supervisor who was Florida’s secretary of state, had zero confidence in the second list. Browning is now gone from office, but a third list of suspected non-citizens endures. This one includes about 2,700 persons — a molecule in a bucket, considering that Florida has 11.3 million registered voters.

Yet the state still can’t get it right.

Witness the incredibly embarrassing case of Bill Internicola, a Broward resident who was born in the good old U.S.A. and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Oops, Internicola was on the list. And he was rightfully upset, so upset that he attended a press conference to talk about it.

Challenging a decorated war veteran’s right to vote was a rather poor P.R. moment, and Internicola became a worst-case nightmare for Scott and other Republicans who’ve been working to “clean up” the voter rolls in time for the November elections.

Already they’ve cut back early-voting hours and cracked down on voter-registration drives in order to lower the participation of students and minorities, who tend to vote Democrat.

Florida being a key state — possibly the key state in the presidential race — the GOP dreads a repeat of 2008, when an enthusiastic turnout of black and Hispanic voters helped Barack Obama win. So nobody was terribly shocked when The Miami Herald reported that 87 percent of those on the state’s purge list are minorities.

That’s the whole idea!

The governor says no, that it’s all about maintaining the integrity of Florida’s elections. (Please stop laughing right now.)

Almost everyone agrees that only Americans should vote in American elections, but there’s no evidence that waves of unnaturalized immigrants are swamping the polls. Election scandals in Florida traditionally involve dubious absentee ballots, or (as we all remember from 2000) dubious counting.

Occasionally a dead person in Miami will vote, but it’s almost always a dead person who was lawfully registered before he or she expired.

The governor himself should know how untrustworthy the electoral databases can be. In 2006, he was mistakenly declared dead while he was very much alive in Naples, and had to file provisional ballots in two elections.

So far, at least 500 people on the state’s outlaw voter list have been confirmed as legitimate citizens. According to Scott, more than 100 others have been identified as non-citizens and about 50 might have cast a ballot at some point. But the process is so chaotic that nobody has reliable numbers.

In Lee and Collier counties, the two jurisdictions that are following through with the so-called purge, nine persons have been taken off the voter rolls with no evidence that they’re not citizens.

Anybody who fails to respond within 60 days to a county’s request for proof of citizenship can be taken off the voting rolls — even if they moved and didn’t get their mail, or happened to be in the hospital when the letter came. Those who are wrongly removed can still cast provisional ballots, but those are more frequently challenged.

Voters named on the state’s shaky list must dig up citizenship documents — a burden that is egregiously unfair and insulting, as Bill Internicola, who earned a Bronze Star, can attest.

Most elections supervisors want nothing to do with the governor’s plan so close to a big election. Scott says the list would be more accurate if only the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would turn over a database containing information about immigrants. The Department of Justice says the database isn’t set up for hunting down illegal voters, and weeks ago ordered the state to halt screening the voting rolls because the methodology could violate federal law.

To verify a voter’s eligibility, Florida officials are relying on razor-sharp intelligence data provided by the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. It’s the sort of absurd scenario that could only unfold in a Kurt Vonnegut novel, or in Tallahassee.

The DMV data is somewhat unreliable, to put it kindly. If you get a driver’s license on Monday and become a naturalized citizen on Tuesday, the computer still coughs you up as an ineligible voter.

Meanwhile the state is suing the federal government, the feds are suing the state and Scott is defending his poll-cleansing plan at Tea Party venues, where he’s safe from scorn.

The governor won’t be on the ballot in November, which is a shame, but two more years leaves plenty of time for thousands of prospective citizens to get naturalized and register to vote. It would be only fitting.

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