A federal judge in Florida yesterday said that he will permanently block new restrictions on voter registration drives that have suppressed registration in the months leading up to the 2012 election. The new restrictions had all but shut down voter registration efforts by major civic engagement groups in Florida.
Elder Lee Harris of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, issued the following statement:
“My fellow church leaders and I have been working to get everybody in our community to participate in our democracy. Unfortunately, some of our elected officials want to discourage new voters and drive people away from the polls, rather than drawing new voters in. Discouraging civic participation is a cynical and short-sighted way to try to win an election. Yesterday’s ruling means that more people will have more opportunities to register to vote. This decision is good for Florida, and good for our democracy.”
Shortly before the 2000 election, the state of Florida undertook a massive purge of its voter rolls, eliminating the names of 12,000 residents who the state believed ineligible to vote because of felony convictions. The problem? The sloppy purge eliminated the names not just of felons who had lost their right to vote under Florida law, but also of people who had just committed misdemeanors; felons who had regained their voting rights; and even of people who simply shared the name of an ineligble voter. The result was a mess which left countless eligible Floridians, disproportionately African American, stripped of their right to vote in a state that ultimately decided the presidential election by 537 votes.
Now Florida, under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, is poised to start another disastrous voter purge. Think Progress reports that a purge of “non-citizens” from Florida’s voting rolls has already struck hundreds of eligible citizens. Many more have not replied to a letter that informs them they will lose their right to vote if they don’t reply with proof of citizenship. Despite the clear inaccuracy of the purge, the burden is on registered voters to prove that they are eligible, not on the state to prove that they are not.
Rep. Ted Deutsch is now calling on Gov. Scott to suspend the flawed purge, saying it will “create chaotic results and further undermine Floridians’ confidence in the integrity of our elections.”
As we investigated in our report “The Right to Vote Under Attack,” right-wing politicians have been using the specter of “voter fraud” to carry out a number of programs meant to suppress the vote of progressive-leaning groups. The flawed voter purge in one of the closest of swing states is just the most recent blatant example.