It’s obvious that Gov. Rick Scott is bent on discouraging minority voters from heading to the polls. The presidential election might be close this fall. Scott doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.
The governor has ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner to purge voter rolls of people who are not citizens. In pursuit of this purge, the secretary of state has been naming names and has gotten hundreds of them wrong. Thankfully, the supervisors of elections – Republican and Democrat – stopped the purge. And if that doesn’t work, the U.S Justice Department is trying to put a stop to it.
This fight is about the past and the future. You have to look at this episode through the lens of the 2000 presidential election, when between 12,000 and 22,000 eligible voters were denied their constitutional right to vote because they were labeled as felons.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush went after felons again in 2004, but somehow his list only included African Americans, not Hispanics.
In Tallahassee, where I live, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho said four ineligible voters were on the list of eight names sent by the state. All four had stated clearly on the forms that they were non-citizens, but had been incorrectly registered by the state anyway. None had tried to vote.
Statewide, the governor says 140 people have been identified as non-citizens and about 50 may have unlawfully voted. He talks less about the more than 500 citizens who’ve had to prove they were wrongly targeted, or the hundreds more who may not know they’ve been falsely accused until they show up to vote.
Scott said he’s simply trying to protect the rights of the majority of Florida voters and make sure their voting power isn’t diluted by fraud.
Sounds noble enough. But now we know that Detzner’s predecessor, Kurt Browning, refused to go along with Scott’s wishes because he didn't trust the list. He quit, so the governor went looking for a lackey who would do his bidding.
This initiative has nothing to with protecting the rights of the majority and stopping voter fraud. It has everything to do with winning elections.
This effort to purge the rolls is part of the state Republican game plan for election reform. After witnessing long lines of blacks willing to stand in line day after day to vote for a presidential candidate Republicans despised, legislators responded to the 2008 election by reducing the number of days for early voting. They also passed a law to hamstring the voter registration efforts of progressive groups more likely to sign up non-GOP leaning voters. Thankfully, the federal courts stepped in.
This is not just another rant about GOP voter suppression. This is a call to action. Minority voters shouldn’t let the faux guardians of our election system get off Scott free. The only appropriate response is to vote. It’s imperative.
“For many, it’s a privilege to vote. For those of us of color, it’s a duty, a solemn duty,” said Dale Landry, president of the Tallahassee NAACP branch. He talks about that “strange fruit’’ hanging from the trees. We don’t need to get graphic, but we can’t afford to forget.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensured black voters in the South access to the polls. Access came at a price. Men and women died for even daring to talk about voting.
Their sacrifice was not in vain. If President Obama’s victory in 2008 would have been impossible without the Voting Rights Act, then Florida’s “election reform” is designed to make sure he’s not re-elected.
Yes, this voting thing is serious business. Too many people paid too high a price for us to be deterred by small politicians with small agendas. So let them try. It’s going to take more than intimidation to keep us from voting in November.
Andrew J. Skerritt is an assistant professor of journalism at Florida A&M University and the author of Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at andrewjskerrit