Rick Scott is a man on a mission. Florida’s Republican Governor has decided to resume his quest to purge non-citizens from his state’s voting rolls. After a Cabinet meeting on August 6, he said, “Every citizen that has a right to vote in our state and registers to vote, that vote should not be diluted by somebody who does not have the right to vote, by somebody who’s illegally voting.”
Governor Scott has learned little from his previous pursuit of illegal voters, which was an embarrassing failure. Non-citizen voting is not a genuine problem in Florida, nor elsewhere in the U.S. Scott’s mission is a cynical exercise in political maneuvering at the expense of Latino and other minority voters.
In 2012, Scott’s attempted voter purge was a disaster. First, state election supervisors were given a list of 182,000 people who were allegedly ineligible to vote because they weren’t citizens. The list proved to be riddled with errors, so it was cut down to 2600 names. The Miami Herald noted that this list was 58 percent Hispanic, despite the fact that Latinos comprise only 13 percent of Florida voters. The number of suspected illegal voters was later winnowed to 198. “It (the voter purge) was sloppy, it was slapdash, and it was inaccurate,”said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards. The sheer incompetence of the voter purge effort was an affront to democracy.
Now Scott wants to do it again – and he can. Until recently, states like Florida with a history of racial discrimination at the polls had to get pre-approval from the federal government before they changed their voting laws. But in June, the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which has emboldened Scott and other Republican lawmakers to resume their attempts at voter suppression. Consider that The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reports that, “…By any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare.” And although Hispanics were disproportionately targeted by the voter purges in 2012, the sole person prosecuted for voter fraud in Florida was from Canada.
Why is Scott revisiting the idea of a voter purge? Because he is up for re-election in 2014, and his numbers are shaky. Many of his Tea Party supporters are unhappy about his decision to allow the expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. A June poll found Scott trailing former Florida Governor Charlie Crist in a hypothetical matchup (Crist is expected to challenge Scott next year). Only 35 percent of Florida voters say Scott deserves a second term. So in order to re-energize his conservative base, Scott is throwing Hispanics under the bus and taking on the mythical problem of non-citizen voting.
Yes, it is important that Florida maintains the integrity of its elections. However, it is equally important that citizens be guaranteed their constitutional right to vote. Scott should know this; before he was in politics he twice had to vote using provisional ballots because election officials told him he was dead. If Scott truly wanted to improve Florida elections, he could address real problems, like the state’s infamous long lines at the voting booth. Voters in the Sunshine State had to wait up to nine hours in the 2012 presidential election, and Hispanic voters waited the longest. Researchers found that as many as 49,000 potential voters were discouraged by the lines on Election Day and gave up. These numbers matter in a swing state like Florida, where in 2000 George W. Bush won the state (and the presidency) by 537 votes.
Governor Scott’s latest attempt at voter suppression is a disgrace. If he cannot win re-election without purging voters from the rolls, maybe it’s time for Florida voters to purge him right out of office.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.