Voter law must be overturned
Published: Monday, June 4, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 14:06
Florida’s battleground status will be key in this year’s election, yet the purging of the state’s voter registration rolls is all too familiar a ploy. The state will undoubtedly see a repeat of the 2000 election if it does not cease the practice, and officials have continued despite warnings from the Department of Justice to stop.
Last year, the enactment of HB 1355 proved to be a hindrance for many organizations that attempted to register new voters, passed by Florida’s Republican-dominated Senate. The legislation targeted many organizations that reach out to students and try to empower voter registration; the witch hunt for noncitizens on Florida’s voter registration rolls is the next step by the state to ensure a Republican win in November.
“What we’ve seen very clearly is that there’s been a drop-off in new registrations across the state of Florida,” University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith said. “And that indicates that these groups like the League of Women Voters, the Boy Scouts and others that have engaged in voter registration in past years that are not doing so have had an effect. We have less younger people registering to vote in the state of Florida.”
Smith’s assessment is a valid concern; more than 81,000 fewer new voters have registered last year when compared to 2008. This is due to the fact that policies for third-party organizations outlined in HB 1355 are not only unrealistic, but are unconstitutional. A high school teacher in Pace, Fla., was fined for registering her students to vote because she did not turn in new voter registration forms within the 48-hour deadline. The previous law allowed 10 days. Federal Judge Robert Hinkle overturned that portion of the law, deeming it unconstitutional. Now that fewer young people are registering, a prominent Democratic demographic, minority groups must also be obstructed to ensure a Republican win. This is being taken care of through questionable practices aimed at finding noncitizens on the state’s voter rolls.
“Florida has a very shameful history of purging minority voters based on false information before presidential elections,” said Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, director of voter protection projects for the Advancement Project. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit works to protect voter rights, and Culliton-Gonzalez acknowledges that this practice will create a threat to voters.
“What’s happening now, is not only illegal but it’s inaccurate. There are actual citizens on these lists. So, what’s happening is completely counter to the fundamental principles of our democracy,” Culliton-Gonzalez said.
The Florida secretary of state’s office will pay $90,000 to gain access to the Department of Homeland Security database in order to confirm the citizenship of the 182,000 names whose status is currently questionable. For a state with a voting process that Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles described as accurate and reliable, this seems like a hefty chunk of change and a significant amount of manpower to cleanse the state’s registration rolls, all without substantial evidence that the numbers are accurate.
According to The Miami Herald, the 2000 elections division pulled the same stunt with felons on the voter rolls, which potentially removed hundreds and possibly thousands of eligible voters. Florida’s loss by presidential candidate Al Gore came down to a difference of 537 votes.
Florida’s motor-voter law enables residents to register to vote when they receive their license. Ideally, this process should prevent noncitizens from receiving a state-issued ID in the first place, and the problem would be nipped in the bud. Temporary cards of some sort should be issued instead that clarify a person’s citizenship that has been previously verified when the person’s driver’s license was received. This is just common sense.
The whole issue would be resolved if this type of identification were required at polls, and there was no question to whether or not that identification was an indicator of citizenship. Many people would not be able to vote if the burden of providing proof of citizenship relied on it, which is why a state ID should suffice.
Each state needs to be responsible for this, and the process needs to be reevaluated if this many noncitizens are falling through the cracks. However, the voting process itself should not hamper anyone from casting a ballot, which sadly is exactly what seems to be the goal of Florida’s legislators.
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