Cerabino: For Florida, privacy trumps Trump in federal voter purge

You know your voter fraud fantasies are in trouble when the state of Florida won’t play along.

This week, Florida belatedly joined 44 other states in announcing it wouldn’t fully comply with the wishes of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

This is the commission set in motion by the fanciful assertion of President Donald Trump that he actually won the popular vote in last year’s presidential election, not just the decisive Electoral College vote. To make that true, the unstated mission of the commission is to identify more than 3 million people in America who voted illegally last November — theoretically all Hillary Clinton voters.

It’s quite a task. Especially since recent data suggests that voter fraud occurs at a negligible rate. One recent study found 31 instances of in-person voter fraud among the nearly billion ballots cast between 2000 to 2014.

The numbers may be small, but the ego is large. And so every state has been asked to fork up not only all available public information about its voters, including party affiliation, but also information that isn’t public — such as driver license numbers, and the last four digits of residents’ Social Security numbers.

All of it to be placed in some super-duper voting database held and manipulated in the White House.

States run by Democrats and Republicans have balked. Even Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach, the Republican who co-chairs the voter fraud commission, isn’t fully complying in his own state with the directive that he sent to all the other states.

How’s that for off to a bad start?

Florida, which until now had never met a voter purge it didn’t like, took way longer than most states in deciding, but finally this week, even Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner had to say no, writing the commission that state law forbids him to give up any information that isn’t already available as a public record.

Imagine that: Florida the voice of restraint on overzealous voter purging. How the tables have turned.

It was just five years ago, when the situation was reversed. Detzner and Florida was in the middle of a futile effort to find voter fraud among its own residents, by identifying 182,000 non-citizens and comparing their names to state driver registrations.

Back then, when the federal government was in the business of protecting voting rights, the U.S. Department of Justice took a dim view of Florida’s sloppy effort at culling the vote, sending Detzner a letter and asking him to knock it off.

But the state continued. Only to be embarrassed by the results:

Even after Florida’s initial list of 182,000 non-citizens identified as voters had shrunk to 2,600 names, it still included hundreds of false positives, ending with only 86 people removed from the rolls.

The U.S. Justice Department was joined by a coalition of civil liberties groups that questioned the motivation of that purge. Its biggest effect was to eliminate scores of lawfully registered Hispanic voters who were flagged in error and then forced to try to get their voting privileges restored.

That’s the real harm done by these voter purges.

And Florida has had a rich history in the past two decades of engaging in sloppy voter purges that have produced more false-positive results than actual voter fraud.

The state hired a company before the 2000 presidential election, which came up with an error-filled list of felons’ names that resulted in lawfully registered voters discovering they were suddenly ineligible to vote.

In 2004, the state came up with another erroneous voter purge that identified the names of 22,000 black Floridians, but just 61 Hispanics, due to a coding error between databases.

Recently, the most successful form of voter suppression in Florida has been done legally by denying of the restoration of civil rights to felons who have completed all their time and service. Florida is one of just three states that doesn’t automatically have a pathway for felons to vote again.

In Florida, it’s up to the governor and his or her cabinet sitting as a clemency board. This had been a viable process under previous governors.

During Charlie Crist’s term, 155,314 Floridians who had been convicted of felonies and had served their time had their voting rights restored. In the four years before that, Gov. Jeb Bush had restored the voting rights to 65,430 felons who had paid their debts to society.

But since Rick Scott became governor, the process of restoring voting rights to felons has slowed to a trickle.

Its effect has been to keep about 1.5 million potential voters off Florida’s voting rolls. That’s about one in 10 Florida adults who can’t vote here but would have been eligible to vote if they had lived in just about any other state.

So it’s noteworthy that Florida, the state that has embraced voter suppression like few others, is saying it just can’t go along with the kind of voting assault the Trump administration is planning — all to belatedly crown an emotionally needy president the popular vote in an 8-month-old election he already won.

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