August 23, 2012

IN 2011, FLORIDA Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a measure that imposed more than 75 restrictions on Florida voters, ostensibly to combat voter fraud. These included requirements that make it more difficult for third-party organizations to register voters, limits on early voting and a plan to purge voter rolls of non-citizens.

As with many of the voter limitations imposed by Republican state governments since they won election in 2010, these measures are likely to favor Republican candidates — and Florida is the ultimate swing state. Thankfully, a federal judge in Florida has issued a preliminary injunction against the law, which would interfere with the ability of organizations like the League of Women Voters to register voters in time for the election. That’s good for now, but any attempt to discourage participation at the polls should be struck down for good.

Florida’s promise to ban non-citizens from voting sounds benign, but the method behind its purges causes serious concern. In a preliminary drafting of a list, Florida’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, came up with some 2,600 possible names. When the list was shown to county election officials, a number of citizens were discovered on it, including war veterans and longtime voters. To correct these mistakes, state officials plan to use more comprehensive data from the Department of Homeland Security, but even so, some citizens may be denied the right to vote. It’s good to see that pending lawsuits will challenge the dubious necessity of this measure.

The Scott administration has shown unsettling virulence in enforcing these provisions. Five of Florida’s 67 counties are subject to pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and this month a panel of federal judges ruled that Florida couldn’t prove that its shortened early-voting period wouldn’t have a disproportionate effect on African American voters. Instead of suspending the entire provision and striving for a uniform policy across the state, Mr. Scott, as if to encourage another Bush v. Gore, has insisted that the law still applies in Florida’s 62 other counties. Although state officials are quick to point out that early voting increased in the 2012 primaries, it’s unfortunate to see that limiting certain voters’ access to the polls matters more to them than encouraging legitimate turnout.