by Jeremy Leaming
Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott remains adamant that his government is not seeking to suppress the vote of minorities, college students, the poor, and others not inclined to support a right-wing agenda. As noted earlier this week, Florida is among a slew of Republican-controlled states claiming that onerous new voting restrictions are needed to combat widespread voter fraud.
Of course these lawmakers are unable to cite much evidence supporting voter fraud because it’s a nonexistent problem.
In a forthcoming ACS Issue Brief on efforts to suppress voter turnout, Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt also notes the paltry evidence in support of voter fraud. Levitt says that a logical explanation for the “extraordinary rarity of reported impersonation fraud at the polls is that such fraud is extraordinarily rare. It is an extremely inefficient means to influence an election. For each act of in-person impersonation fraud in a federal election, the perpetrator risks five years in prison and a $10,000 fine under federal law, in addition to penalties under state law. In return, the perpetrator gains at most one incremental vote. It is understandable that few individuals believe such a trade-off worthwhile.”
Nonetheless, right-wing politicians continue to raise voter fraud as a reason for their outlandish efforts to suppress the vote.
But yesterday a federal judge provided a setback to Gov. Scott’s (pictured) efforts by blocking a portion of Florida’s onerous new voter law aimed at making it nearly impossible for organizations to conduct voter registration drives. U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle wrote, “Allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter registration drives – thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote – promotes democracy.”
The lawsuit was brought by the League of Women Voters in Florida, and joined by other civil rights groups, such as the ACLU. The League of Women Voters has been conducting registration drives for decades but stopped the operation in Florida following enactment of the new restrictions on such drives.
Deirdre Macnab, president of the Florida League of Women Voters told The New York Times the group was “eager to get back to its core work of brining eligible citizens on to the Florida’s voter rolls.”
Not long after yesterday’s federal court opinion, the U.S. Department of Justice ordered state officials to stop its purging of voter rolls. Gov. Scott had ordered officials in a string of counties to remove individuals the government had tagged as noncitizens from the voter rolls. But The Miami Herald reported that the list looked suspect. Close to sixty percent of the alleged noncitizens were Hispanics. “Independent voters and Democrats are the most likely to face being purged from the rolls. Republicans and non-Hispanic whites are the least likely,” The Herald reported.
The DOJ civil right division said the purge appeared to violate the Voting Rights Act and National Voter Registration Act. The DOJ, The Herald reported, gave the state until next Wednesday to let it know “of its planned course of action.”
As the newspaper notes, Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Acts bars certain jurisdictions, including counties in Florida, from making changes to their voting laws without federal approval.
Today, Gov. Scott struck a defensive tone, claiming his administration was “absolutely not” attempting to suppress the votes of minorities, The Heraldreports. He continued to push the voter fraud canard, saying, “We want people who have the right to vote go out there and vote.”
The Brennan Center’s Weiser said Florida’s efforts to suppress the vote and “others approved in the past year represent the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades.”
“Voting Law Changes in 2012,” a Brennan Center report, explores the implications of the states’ attempts to curtail the vote. A June 16 panel at the ACS 2012 Convention, with Professor Levitt to participate, will look at how the voter suppression movement could impact democracy.
[image via JAXPORT]