Guest column: Beware further efforts to purge voter rolls

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Guest commentary

The sequel to Gov. Rick Scott’s 2012 election-year voter purge is coming soon to a county near you and, like many sequels, it’s a rehashed version of the original with some new bells and whistles.

Scott’s latest voter purge features a flawed script, politically motivated actors and, in the starring role, an ill-conceived, taxpayer-funded undermining of democracy.

Last fall, Scott’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, conducted the so-called Project Integrity tour across Florida. He purportedly wanted to inform and solicit feedback from county supervisors of elections and the public about the latest effort to remove alleged noncitizens from the voting rolls.

Detzner confirmed that he is creating a list of suspected noncitizen voters by cross-checking the Department of Homeland Security System Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE) database with the state’s voter data. Unfortunately, the five-day tour only confirmed what we already suspected: The use of the SAVE database is inaccurate, poorly thought out and alarmingly similar to Scott’s error-ridden 2012 voter purge that most elections supervisors, many of whom are Republicans, ultimately rejected.

The Scott administration’s team failed to address many critical questions and concerns about this new purge, chief among them is that the SAVE database does not definitively identify whether a person is a citizen. In Homeland Security’s agreement with Florida, which allows the state to access SAVE, it says that “the inability of the SAVE Program to verify (a person’s) citizenship does not necessarily mean that (the person is) not a citizen of the United States and ineligible to vote.”

If that language doesn’t set off alarm bells for local elections officials, what possibly could?

Database matching programs are notoriously unreliable. Data entry errors and changing information can produce false matches. Under the purge procedure, Florida’s naturalized citizens may be burdened with notice letters, hearing dates, requirements to show their papers and the costs of replacing lost documents ($345 to replace a certificate of citizenship). These confusing and intimidating measures will prevent eligible Florida voters from exercising a fundamental right.

Just as it was in 2012, this purge is a solution in search of a problem. Where has the Scott administration documented the “problem” of noncitizen voting? How many elections supervisors have indicated a problem with noncitizen voting? Who asked the Scott administration to initiate the purge last year and this year?

The SAVE database is a fee-based system, which would make it more expensive than the 2012 voter purge. What is the taxpayer cost of this resuscitated program?

None of these questions has been adequately addressed.

No one contests that it is important for Florida’s voter rolls to be kept up to date in a fair and legal manner. Florida’s elections supervisors take this aspect of their job very seriously.

Therefore, it should come as little surprise that so far few of our state’s elections supervisors have agreed to participate in the new purge. It’s likely that they, like many Floridians, are hoping that this is a sequel that totally flops — at the ballot box.

Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, which describes itself as a “statewide progressive advocacy organization.” He has worked for the Florida Public Interest Research Group, helped shut down the predatory car title loan industry and worked against oil drilling in Florida’s state waters. He is on the boards of directors of the Florida Consumer Action Network and Environment Florida.

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