Florida Democrats marked the opening of talks between state officials and county elections supervisors Thursday by condemning Gov. Rick Scott and fellow Republicans for what they call their latest attempt at voter suppression.
“They are going to use every tool at their disposal,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who is chair of the Democratic National Committee. “It’s another example of how Rick Scott and his Republican friends can’t win elections on their merits.”
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner was scheduled to meet Thursday in Panama City with elections supervisors from the Panhandle, as part of the agency’s revived effort to remove noncitizens and other ineligible voters from the state’s elections rolls.
The state has called the review Project Integrity.
Detzner has scheduled roundtables with county supervisors today through Oct. 9 to draw input on how to proceed. The Oct. 9 hearing is expected to draw supervisors from South Florida and is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Broward County Governmental Center.
Democrats say the administration’s pre-election year push will unfairly target minority voters, who tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
Wasserman Schultz pointed out that President Obama carried 71 percent of the Hispanic vote and 95 percent of the black vote in Florida in last year’s election.
Minority and voting rights groups earlier this month called on Scott to drop the review of voter rolls, saying the database the state intends to use is flawed.
Scott plans to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list, short for Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement, list to conduct the review. Several county election supervisors already have raised concerns about the accuracy of the database, saying it may not accurately reflect the voting eligibility of many recent immigrants.
Relying on the state’s driver license database, Scott last year attempted to remove noncitizens, initially settling on a pool of 182,000 names of potential noncitizens that was later reduced to 2,600 voters.
Those named were sent to election supervisors, who found many were in fact eligible voters.
In the end, the list of possible noncitizen voters shrank to 198. Elections officials found that about 40 had voted illegally.
“Florida voters deserve better,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant.
Brittany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Detzner, defended the department’s latest action.
Lesser said the new SAVE system now available to the state is a “game-changer,” when it comes to providing more accurate data.
She added that the meetings between Detzner and supervisors is aimed at responding to concerns from supervisors. They would be the final arbiters, deciding whether a name stays on the rolls or is removed, Lesser said.
“We’re here to collaborate with supervisors in protecting the integrity of the voting laws,” Lesser said.
While the opening day of meetings with supervisors went off without a hitch in Republican-heavy Panama City, Democrats plan to hold a rally before the second round takes place Friday in Jacksonville.
A Public Policy Polling survey released this week adds to Democratic skepticism, finding that Scott draws his lowest approval ratings in Florida from Hispanic and black voters.
The poll also showed expected Florida Democratic candidate Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor, would defeat Scott by a 12 percentage point margin if they faced off next year.
Crist draws overwhelming support from black voters and holds a double-digit edge over Scott among Hispanic voters, the poll showed.
As governor, Crist drew praise for making it easier for Florida felons to regain their voting rights and antagonized many within his then-Republican Party by extending early voting in the 2008 presidential election.
Under Scott, the Republican-led Legislature reduced by half the number of days available for early voting last year, only to reinstate early voting at 14 days this past spring.
While generally hailed by Democrats now, the Republican Crist in 2008 had caught heat from voting rights groups and minorities for backing a strict state law that threatened to rule ineligible any voters whose driver’s license or Social Security numbers conflicted with those in a state database.