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Anyone who closely followed the 2000 presidential election fiasco in Florida remembers that one of the key reasons that George W. Bush "won" the state was the fact that thousands of black voters were falsely purged from the voter rolls in advance of the election, preventing those Floridians from voting, most of whom would've voted for Al Gore. In 2012, Republicans are looking at purging 180,000 Hispanics from the voting rolls. Is history repeating itself?
In 2000, more than 20,000 voters -- most of them African American -- were prevented from voting because they had names similar to convicted felons. People who had the full right to vote, most of whom had never been convicted of a serious crime, were prevented from voting by Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris and the Republicans in Tallahassee. Most black voters in Florida, like elsewhere, voted for Al Gore. And considering the state went to George W. Bush by less than 550 votes, it's clear that the purge was a major factor in stealing the election for the governor's brother.
Now the Rick Scott administration -- which by any standard is thought to be less ethical than the Jeb Bush administration -- is preparing a voter purge list that could reach 180,000 strong. Since the purge list is specifically targeted at trying to stop undocumented immigrants from voting, the list will be almost completely Hispanic. And despite the fact that Cuban-American Floridians tend to vote Republican, the majority of Florida Hispanics are not of Cuban heritage. If the list is successfully completed, then, it's obvious that it will disproportionately target Democratic voters. Just like the Bush-Harris list from 2000.
The full universe of potentially ineligible voters that state elections officials plan to check for possible removal from the roles is about 180,000, a spokesman for the Division of Elections said Friday, reports David Royse of the News Service of Florida.
Elections spokesman Chris Cate told the News Service that in all, when matching voter rolls against newly available citizenship data from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, officials found that number of possible matches, and began further investigating each one to see if they were likely to be wrongly registered to vote.
Officials reported earlier this week that they had forwarded the first batch of those names, about 2,600 to local supervisors of elections for further review and for each voter to be notified that they were on a list of people suspected of being illegally registered.
“Everyone of those individuals would be contacted by supervisors,” Cate said.
“We’re still in the early stages of combing through that 180,000,” Cate told the News Service. “We have to respect every voter,” and err on the side of not purging them from the rolls if they’re legitimately registered, he said. Some additional portion of the full list of possible non-citizens will eventually be identified as likely to be wrongly registered and sent to local supervisors for possible purging. Whether all of them will be vetted before this year’s election remains unclear.
“There’s not a timeline, we are moving as promptly as we can while still being thorough,” Cate said.
Some Democrats and voting rights groups have criticized the new effort to find suspected ineligible voters. An ACLU official said this week that state officials were looking for cover while trying to disenfranchise voters.
Many of those identified so far have been in South Florida. Local media in Miami reported this week that the supervisor in Miami-Dade County had been sent about 2,000 of the 2,600 initially identified suspect voters.
So many details connected to this story should scare anyone interested in free and fair elections. First off, the governor's administration has a record of voter suppression that rivals any governor in the country, with Florida ACLU Director Howard Simon calling Florida the voter suppression capitol of America.
Second, the administration is also not known for being ethical or following the rules. A few examples: Gov. Scott faced the country's largest fine for Medicare fraud in history, his chief of staff resigned Saturday amid scandal and the Florida Supreme Court smacked down the governor for overstepping his bounds in terms of state rulemaking.
Third, it is incredibly questionable that the review is set up on a timeline where they don't know if it'll be completed in time for this election to be fairly conducted. And the fact that they are sending out only 2,600 names to be checked at this point makes it seem like a deliberate delay. If they are really afraid that 180,000 voters are falsely registered in Florida, it would seem they would make that the top priority in a presidential election year and get the review done quickly, in time for appeals and double-checking to make sure it is done accurately.
Fourth, it's very strange that they are starting the process off by targeting a strongly Democratic-leaning county in Miami-Dade.
Fifth, is it even remotely believable that there are 180,000 undocumented immigrants registered to vote in Florida? No, it isn't.
Sixth, while the media is focused on this story, what is happening with the annual purge list of convicted felons? Is that list being handled better than it was in the past or is that something that needs to be closely watched as well?
All-in-all, this is the scariest story to come out of Florida in a while. Are we going to see a repeat of 2000 in 2012? Will it make Mitt Romney the next president of the U.S.? Is the Justice Department going to take a look into this issue before it's too late?