Florida's attempt to scrub the voter rolls is un-American
Five good reasons why you should care about the Sunshine State's voter purge
Published: July 3, 2012
So get mad, people. You should care. Here are five good reasons why we should be raising the roof over this brazen act of voter suppression.
1 Because it's happened before
Those even mildly taken aback by the blind chutzpa currently being exhibited by Gov. Scott and his purge-worthy defiance needn't look back too far in the Florida annals for another example of suppression via the voter rolls. On Nov. 7, 2000 — the day that brought us the term "hanging chad" — Florida's less obvious electoral fumble came in the form of tens of thousands of eligible Florida voters either being turned away at their polling places or forbidden to register altogether. In a twisted bit of conservative housecleaning logic, the state had already ordered a scrub of the voter rolls prior to Gov. Jeb Bush's 1998 gubernatorial election; in order to do so, the state paid Database Technologies Inc. (the only bidder on the contract) an unprecedented $2.3 million, which makes sense if you consider that 8,000 of those names ordered to be removed from the voter rolls were provided by Texas state officials working under Jeb's big brother Gov. George W. Bush. Fast forward two years later, and Jeb Bush's since-maligned Secretary of State Katherine Harris ordered the names of 82,389 ex-felons who had relocated to Florida from states where voting rights are restored upon completion of their prison sentences in order to delete them from the voter roles. In other words, Florida broke the law. Subsequent studies found the accuracy rate of the database to be far below DBT's estimate of 85 percent (a Leon County assessment came up with a 5 percent accuracy rate), but even if DBT was correct, that would still mean that 15 percent of a population that votes 93 percent Democratic was not allowed the right to vote. Don't think that matters much? George W. Bush won Florida by a tiny margin of just 543 votes. It matters.
2 Because voting is a right, not a privilege
Our federal Constitution guarantees that citizens over the age of 18 cannot be deprived of a vote based on race, age or gender. The right to vote is a hard-earned one, even though most of us didn't really have to fight all that hard in our lifetimes to get it. Up until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was finally passed, many states implemented processes and obstacles that made it harder for people — mostly minorities — to cast a vote. We should have put that shit behind us more than 40 years ago, and yet politicians in Florida (and Texas and everywhere, basically) are continually looking for new ways to get around that law. Those same politicians are often the ones invoking our rights to bear arms and pray to the God of our choice, but they're remarkably silent on another of our most basic rights — the one right that actually gives people a say in who governs them and how they are governed.
One of the earliest documents drawn up that led to the founding of our nation — the Declaration of Independence — compiled a list of grievances against King George III, not the least of which was the failure of the king to respect the colonists' rights to have a say in how they were governed.
"In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms," the declaration states. "Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."
And free people have the right to vote. Not the privilege. The right.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
But how are people to alter, abolish or institute new government if they can't participate in the democratic process created to help them do just that? Um. Exactly.
3 Because it's illegal
Critics of the governor's scrub-happy maneuvering have cited two very important laws meant to curtail intentional voter suppression: the 1965 Voting Rights Act and 1993's National Voter Registration Act. The former forbids states from enacting laws that prohibit voter participation based on race, forcing areas in the South (which had historically been responsible in large part for poll taxes and Jim Crow laws) to get preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice on any changes to voting laws. The latter, the NVRA, prevents states from adjusting their voter rolls within 90 days of a federal election, among numerous other pro-voter caveats. When a legion of voting and civil rights groups banded together to sue the state on the matter of its mass purge — citing, among various racial implications, the fact that there is a federal election within the next 90 days (that being the Aug. 13 primary), the response from the DOJ was swift and clear: The purge likely does violate the aforementioned laws, and should probably be stopped. Given a few days to mull it over in a festering conservative think tank, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner conjured the old red herring of "widespread voter fraud" that has yet to be quantified in any real manner. Then Florida went a step further, suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for not providing adequate information from a federal database for the state to purge even more voters. "I want everybody to vote ... but not non-U.S. citizens," Scott told CNN on June 12. "That's illegal." Of course, when your database is vastly inaccurate, such prudence doesn't apply.
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