The 2012 voter purge was like a bad joke – using unreliable government databases, the state of Florida tried to remove people from the voter rolls in the name of fighting voter fraud, but with no actually evidence of voter fraud to be found. The result was a disaster, with elections supervisors describing it as “embarrassing,” “sloppy,” and “disgusting.” Now, to add insult to injury, the state is planning to use the same erroneous databases from last year to make Florida elections the laughing stock of the country again.  We don’t trust it, and neither should you: if you or someone you know wrongfully receives notice that you are being removed from the voter rolls, contact the ACLU of Florida for help.

On Friday, October 4th, the “Project Integrity” tour – the statewide series of roundtables with Secretary of State Ken Detzner pitching the purge to Supervisors of Elections (SOEs) and voters - made its second stop in Jacksonville. I attended to see how the state planned to justify the purge after last year’s failure. Like me, the SOEs in North Florida seemed skeptical; as SOEs from across the state proved to be at future stops on the tour.

As a matter of course, all SOE Offices conduct cleanup of the rolls, removing persons who are deceased, have moved to another county or state, and who are ineligible to vote due to past felony convictions or mental incompetency. The purge promoted by “Project Integrity” seeks to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls, which seems like a reasonable goal. But not only has the administration been unable to identify the problem they are attempting to solve, but their process leaves too much opportunity for error to make it a reliable option.

The process involves the use of two databases to verify whether or not a would-be voter is a U.S. Citizen: the Driver and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID) from the FL Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program. There continue to be serious concerns about the reliability of the information available from both of these databases as well as concerns about the cost of using these unreliable resources, which were never intended to be used for checking someone’s eligibility to vote.

But what struck me most about the “Project Integrity” tour was that, although the promotional information leading up to the tour described the tour’s purpose “to protect the integrity of Florida’s voter rolls” and “transparency,” at the close of the event in Jacksonville and at the end of all the scheduled tour stops, these critical questions remained unanswered by Secretary Detzner’s office:

  1. How many people were purged from the rolls in 2012?
  2. How are SOEs expected to pay for contracting with DHS to use the SAVE database?
  3. How will SOEs fund the public education campaign necessary to make sure citizens wrongly identified by the process know their rights and do not lose their right to vote.
  4. Why should a naturalized citizen’s be required to ensure their immigration information is current in a database?
  5. Why should a naturalized citizen have to jump through extra hoops to participate in our democracy simply because the administration chooses to rely on information it knows might be out of date.
  6. Are there any documented cases of non-citizens being charged with illegally voting?

In short, Secretary Detnzer couldn’t show evidence that there is actually a problem they are attempting to solve, nor could his office answer why we should expect this year to be any different from the last nor why citizens should be trust the same unreliable databases.

Last year, the ACLU of Florida sued to stop the voter purge and require the state to ask the federal government to review the purge plan to see if it was discriminatory. That lawsuit was dismissed after the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Now we no longer have that legal tool to stop the purge from going forward. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still have rights.

If you or someone you know wrongfully receives notice that you are being removed from the voter rolls, contact the ACLU of Florida for help.

Fair elections are under attack across the country, now more so than ever after the Shelby County decision. Defending democracy takes more than paying lip-service to “Integrity.”