In an unexpected move, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Thursday his office will drop the widely panned plan to purge state voter rolls of non-citizens and other unqualified persons.
Detzner distributed a memo to the various Florida Supervisors of Elections informing them the state’s efforts will stop until after the 2014 Election.
Initially, the plan — known as Project Integrity — drew a barrage of attacks from Democrats who had long opposed the attempt, saying the removal disproportionately targeted minorities, who usually vote Democratic.
Detzner said technical issues involving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE file — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements —was listed as the reason for the delay. Homeland Security officials began revamping the database and it would not be finished until next year.
The decision to pause the purge drew overwhelmingly positive reactions.
According to Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant, the move was “clearly an act of damage-control from a campaign in chaos,” calling the delay “a major victory for the people of Florida who have suffered so many voter suppression efforts under the Rick Scott administration.”
Kevin Cate, spokesperson for the Charlie Crist for Governor Campaign, said this about the Rick Scott voter purge delay:
“This was a mistake from the beginning, and part of a pattern of throwing up roadblocks for Floridians attempting to hold government accountable. This reversal won’t restore the cuts to early voting hours and locations that cause long lines for hardworking Floridians. The people deserve a Governor who will expand access to the polls, and that’s exactly what Charlie Crist did as Governor.”
“This was a mistake from the beginning, and part of a pattern of throwing up roadblocks for Floridians attempting to hold government accountable,” said Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat, who is Scott’s leading re-election rival.
Common Cause Florida Good Government Advocate Brad Ashwell expressed “relief” by Detzner’s move, adding that the accuracy of the SAVE program had always been suspect:
“Many concerns were raised by those who attended each stop of the Project Integrity tour regarding the accuracy of the SAVE database data as well as the lack of clarity around the many sources of that data.
“Unfortunately, many of these questions were never fully answered by the division and it still remains unclear as to how that database can be useful in determining voter eligibility when it can’t even accurately verify whether or not individuals are citizens.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, which filed a lawsuit to stop the effort in 2012, noted that legitimate voters had received letters that they would be removed from rolls. That lawsuit was dismissed following the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder.
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said:
“As we’ve stated since our initial lawsuit challenging the voter purge, there was never any evidence that there was a problem that the purge would fix but that the purge was simply another voter suppression tool justified by the ginned-up phantom of ‘voter fraud.’
“It now appears that the very database that Secretary Detzner and Governor Scott pinned their hopes on and that we had warned was too unreliable to be used for elections is ultimately the voter purge’s undoing.”
League of Women Voters of Florida President Deirdre Macnab, who applauded the announcement, also released a statement:
“Florida voters should be delighted by this news. Independently elected Supervisors of Elections are already standing sentry on making sure that only eligible citizens are voting.
“Programs like ‘Project Integrity’ have proven time and time again to disproportionally impact minority voters and erroneously disenfranchise those that are eligible.”
The LWV noted that previous purges initiated by the Florida Department of State resulted in “embarrassment” for the state, doing nothing to make elections process more reliable.
Leading to the 2012 election, more than 182,000 registered voters were targeted inappropriately by the state as potentially ineligible. Later that list was reduced, but it proved that the administration’s approach to this issue was “highly problematic from the beginning.”