Purging Democracy in the Sunshine State

Your Take: A sense of déjà vu in a Florida official's refusal to halt a purge of the voter rolls.

Florida's Secretary of State Ken Detzner (Courtesy of the State of Florida)

(Special to The Root) — What’s old is new.

Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner is boldly refusing to comply with the Department of Justice’s demand that the state stop its efforts to purge voters from the registration rolls. On Wednesday, he sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice claiming that the purge should go forward.

Though he worries about the integrity of the voting rolls, it seems as if Detzner’s boss, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, doesn’t care if the Sunshine State isn’t quite so sunny for all of its voters. Reports indicate that 87 percent of the people targeted as suspected non-citizens are people of color. But others, including a 91-year-old war hero who won the Bronze Star for his service in World War II, have had their citizenship status questioned, too.

I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu watching this go down, especially after the senseless purge before the contested 2000 presidential election. More than 1,000 eligible voters were improperly stricken from the rolls and couldn’t vote in the election. A disproportionate number of those affected were minorities, and most importantly, then as now, Florida knew that its purge list was flawed and likely, if not guaranteed, to ensnare eligible voters.

In testimony in a purge case that followed the 2000 election, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund learned that the company that prepared the purge list for Florida advised that the voter name “match criteria” were overly broad and would capture eligible voters. The state ignored this warning.

This time around Florida’s local election supervisors raised the red flag about the unreliability of the purge list, but again Florida chose to forge ahead.  

Indeed, the responses of many of those charged with running elections illustrates that there are still strong voices in Florida that put democracy over electoral advantage, and that those voices are bipartisan. The statewide organization of Florida election officials — representing all of its 67 election supervisors — declared that the latest voter purges should cease until the DOJ’s concerns are resolved. In turn, the election supervisors have stopped the purge and some have taken to the airwaves to denounce this democracy-debasing tactic, describing the purge as inconsistent with Florida’s own laws.