A Philosopher's Blog

Voter Suppression in Florida

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 18, 2012
English: The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Governor Scott has gained considerable notoriety in his tenure as governor. Most recently he set out to purge Florida’s voter lists of non-citizens. While I agree with the stated objective (to ensure that only those eligible to vote are allowed to vote) I have serious concerns regarding the methodology. Not surprisingly, I am not alone in this. In fact, Florida’s election supervisors have declined to resume the purging of voters.

One of my main concerns with the method is that the list that was used seems to be inaccurate. If people are to be purged from the roll of eligible voters, it is obvious that the list used for the purging must be accurate. If it was simply a matter of a defective list, then my concern would be mainly limited to ensuring that the checking process is accurate. However, there seem to be other factors involved here.

One key point of concern is whether or not the purge is actually aimed at voter fraud. After all, the existing proper studies of this matter have shown that the incidence of voter fraud is microscopic. Given the penalties for fraud, the ease with which non-citizens would be caught, the fact that illegals would probably not put themselves on a government list that is likely to be checked, and the fact that voter turnout is generally low it seems reasonable to infer that the the percentage of non-citizen voters would be very low.

In the case of Florida, the original list was 182,000 suspects. This was narrowed down to 2,70o and the governor recently claimed that there were almost 100 non-U.S. citizens on the voter rolls and that over 50 of them voted. The list of 2,700 suspects turned out to have 500 U.S. citizens.  It is certainly good that the list was checked-after all, if the list had simply been applied without a thorough review (and the numbers are assumed to be accurate), then about 5 citizens would have been impacted for every non-citizen.  More interestingly, even if it is assumed that the numbers are correct, then out of 182,000 original suspects only 100 non-citizens were registered. This is 0.055%. Assuming that about 50 of them voted, then this would be 0.027%. Applying Scott’s findings to the entire population of voters, the incidence of illegal voters is, not surprisingly, microscopic.

The obvious reply is that even a microscopic percentage of voter fraud is unacceptable and that the voter rolls need to be accurate. While this does have some appeal, there is the obvious concern of whether addressing such a microscopic problem is actually worth the cost-both in terms of the expense and the harms done by legitimate voters being hassled and intimidated. Given the microscopic nature of the problem, it might be suspected that there is another factor (or factors) driving the purge.

If the purge was motivated solely by the desire for an accurate voter list, it should have impacted all voters roughly equally. However, an analysis of the data by the Miami Herald revealed that “Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted…” Republicans and whites were largely given a pass in this purge.

One obvious reply is that Hispanics are more likely to be illegally in the United States than other ethnic groups. However, one concern is that while Hispanics are about 13% of the 11.3 million registered voters in Florida they were about 58% of those flagged as potential non-citizens. As such, it would seem that Hispanics were dis proportionally targeted by the purge. Since Hispanics tend to vote somewhat more for Democrats (and Obama enjoyed considerable Hispanic support in 2008) this suggests that the purge is not aimed so much at ensuring that illegals do not vote but to suppress the Hispanic vote.

In the case of Democratic and independent minded voters being most likely to be targeted, there cannot even be the pretense of an argument that they would be more likely to be n0n-citizens. As such, the targeting of these voters would strongly suggest a political motivation to the purge.

It could be countered that the Miami Herald’s analysis is in error or that the results were unintended. While this would be a rather implausible counter, Scott has also pushed other policies that seem to be clearly aimed at voters who are somewhat more likely to vote Republican that Democrat.

In addition to the purge, Scott has also established a new policy that prevents early voting on the Sunday before election day. While one might wonder how this would address voter fraud, it is an established fact that African-American voters turn out to vote early after the Sunday church services. As such, it seems reasonable to believe that this policy is aimed directly at lowering the African-American turnout. Given that African-Americans tend to support Obama and vote Democrat, it certainly makes sense to consider that the intent of this policy is voter suppression.

It might be replied that this early Sunday voting must be prevented so as to reduce voter fraud. This is, obviously enough, and absurd reply. It would be rather odd to claim that early Sunday voting is the venue of choice for voter fraud.

A more plausible reply is that this policy would not prevent African-Americans from voting-after all, they can still vote. They just could not vote when many of them have been accustomed to vote. While this would, no doubt, have a negative impact on voter turnout this would presumably be a matter of choice-after all, the voters could simply vote on another day.

The obvious counter to this is that there is no acceptable justification for eliminating early Sunday voting. After all, it would have no impact on fraud and the sole plausible explanation for the policy is to reduce African-American turnout.  In fact, it has a certain Jim Crow feel to it.  As such, this policy should not be tolerated.

A third matter of concern is that Scott also decided to impose a policy under which voter registration organizations that failed to turn in the registaration forms within 48 hours would be subject to stiff fines. While 48 hours might seem to be a reasonable amount of time, the policy caused the League of Women Voters to suspend their voter drives. When this policy was stopped by a federal injunction, they resumed their voter drive.  Without such drives, new voter registration would be reduced (some estimate by 20%).

The justification for this policy is, of course, that it supposedly will reduce voter fraud. However, it is not clear that it would have any such effect.  After all, if the fraud occurs at the potential voter’s end (that is, the form is completed fraudulently), then the time limit will have no effect on this. If the fraud is being conducted by the voter registration group, presumably they would have no qualms about faking the dates on the forms as well, thus rendering the 48 hour limit pointless.  Presumably this policy would prevent any fraudulent activity that would require over 48 hours to complete-but it is not at all clear what this might be.

There is also the obvious concern that the 48 hour policy is a solution in search of a problem. After all, groups such as the League of Women Voters do not appear to be hotbeds of fraud. Rather, they have performed important community service by encouraging and assisting citizens in regards to this basic right.

Given that in the last presidential election newly registered voters tended to vote more for Obama than McCain it might be suspected that this policy was aimed at suppressing these new voters. If so, this policy is certainly wrong.

It might, of course, be the case that Scott was actually only concerned about eliminating voter fraud and simply ended up handling matters in an inept way that created the appearance of a concerted and systematic effort at voter suppression. If so, his actions could be attributed to ignorance and incompetence rather than to being motivated by malice. However, either option is rather bad.

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36 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on June 18, 2012 at 9:16 am

    “After all, the existing proper studies of this matter have shown that the incidence of voter fraud is microscopic.”

    Mike, this study is based on double voting and voting by dead people. Can you cite a single study in which voting by illegal aliens and felons has been shown to be microscopic?

    • magus71 said, on June 18, 2012 at 9:53 am

      He’s too far gone, TJ. Just let him go.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm

            One obvious point of concern with the method described below is that people might lie to dodge jury duty. When I was summoned, one person who was also summoned just took off after an hour saying to no one in particular that he had things to do. So, the idea that people do stupid things to get out of jury duty is not unlikely (just do a Google search on ways to get out of jury duty and stories about what people have done).

            According to the Naples Daily News, Harrington took the initiative and compared a list of the people who asked to be excused from jury duty, because they were not U.S. citizens, with the county voter rolls. She found that “nearly half of those potential jurors who said they weren’t citizens were listed in her files as being eligible to vote.” She has actually discovered some ineligible voters beyond the list of 2600 names prepared by the Florida Department of State.

            I do agree that there are people on the lists who should not be-the voter lists are a mess. However, my disagreement is with the methodology. For example, going after predominantly Hispanics, Democrats and so on seems to be a move that is not aimed merely to clean up the lists. Likewise, getting rid of the early Sunday voting and imposing the 48 hour limit on voter registration groups would do nothing to impact the accuracy of lists or address election fraud.

            • T. J. Babson said, on June 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm

              “However, my disagreement is with the methodology.”

              So who is offering a methodology of which you approve? Otherwise it is simply: “we don’t have a plan..we just know we don’t like your plan.”

            • Anonymous said, on June 20, 2012 at 9:15 am

              “So who is offering a methodology of which you approve? Otherwise it is simply: “we don’t have a plan..we just know we don’t like your plan.””

              Nothing is wrong with that. If I wanted to stop petty theft in my town and my plan was to kill everybody I saw would you be ok with me doing that and let me go ahead with my plan if you didn’t have a good plan either?

            • T. J. Babson said, on June 20, 2012 at 10:27 am

              Actually, there is a lot wrong with that. If there is a problem that needs to be solved, better to go with a good plan instead of waiting forever for a perfect plan.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 18, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      In Florida there was the recent concerted effort to find evidence of non-citizens voting. Out of the original list of 182,000 suspects, there was a list of 2,700 and of these apparently 50 non-citizens were alleged to have voted. If we assume the data is accurate, the percentage of illegal aliens voting would be microscopic even by Scott’s data. As far as felons go, it depends on who you get your data from. For example, it was claimed that felon voters might have pushed Franken into office-but that claim was made by folks opposed to Franken rather than by a third party, objective study.

      I am concerned that the voter rolls are a mess: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57377459-503544/study-voter-rolls-deeply-flawed/ As such, I agree that there is a problem to be solved. However, the solutions offered by Scott seem to be aimed at “solving” the fact that there are too many Democrats who will vote for Obama.

      One of my major worries is that 25% of eligible citizens do not register to vote. So, if illegals are voting maybe this is just one more thing they are doing that Americans will not.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on June 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

    “…the ease with which non-citizens would be caught…”

    Since Florida is unable to get an accurate list of citizens, this statement seems absurd on its face.

  3. Nal said, on June 18, 2012 at 10:24 am

    “… then about 5 citizens would have been impacted for every non-citizen.”

    Shouldn’t that be 1 citizen for every 5 non-citizens.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 18, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      Since 500 were citizens and 100 were not, that would seem to be 5:1.

      • Nal said, on June 18, 2012 at 4:28 pm

        2700 on the list. 500 citizens. 100 non-citizens. Mutually exclusive and logically exhaustive … what were the other 2100?

        I think it should be: 2700 on the list, 500 citizens, 2200 non-citizens.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 18, 2012 at 6:39 pm

          Here is the original text from the source cited:

          “The debate’s over,” Scott told CNN. “We know we have almost 100 individuals that have registered to vote that are non-U.S. citizens. Over 50 of them have voted in our elections.”Earlier counts by Florida officials suggested that they’d found 87 non-citizens on the voter rolls, 47 of whom had voted. That was out of a list of 2,700 potential names pared down from an original catalogue of around 182,000. The final list was also judged to have contained 500 names of voters who were legitimate U.S. citizens

          My interpretation, which could be wrong, is that the list of 2,700 consisted of suspected non-citizen voters. If this list is the final list the author mentions, then a reasonable inference would be that the others are non-citizens and non voters. So, the wording should be something like this: “Assuming these numbers are right and the list was not checked further, then there would have been (roughly) 5 legitimately voting citizens for every 1 non-legitimately registered voter with 2100 people on the list who were perhaps both non-voters and non-citizens.”

          Naturally, if the 500 and (over) 100 are not from the 2,700 but from a smaller list, matters would be different. Also, I could be wrong about the 2100-perhaps they have some other status. In any case, going with the 2,700 list would have involved more legitimate voters than registered voters who were illegitimate at (roughly)5:1. If the 2100 were also illegal voters, I infer that Scott would have made that clear. But I could be in error about that as well.

          How’s that?

  4. magus71 said, on June 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    So Mike, what’s your plan in determining who can legally vote and who can’t?

    I think Holder and his pack of cretins in the Justice Department have a political agenda in trying to stop this process as well.

    I can’t remember another attorney general who’s “sued” state governments as often as Holder.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      I’ve given my plan. It begins by establishing an accurate list of eligible voters. This will probably require setting up a central database that processes data from numerous sources and will need automated cross-checking capabilities (for example, running the main list against lists of people who have newly become citizens). Those who remain flagged as ineligible to vote after the automated run through will be given an initial manual check (after all, a significant percentage of the data will be inaccurate, missing or otherwise flawed). Those who are still flagged as ineligible followed by a polite letter requesting that the person confirm his/her eligibility to vote. The confirmation locations will need to be readily accessible and have reasonable hours of operation. The list process would also need to be supervised by non-partisan observers to ensure that the process is not abused.

      I’d also restore the early voting and revoke the 48 hour requirement.

      • WTP said, on June 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm

        “It begins by establishing an accurate list of eligible voters” – well there you go, right there.

        “The list process would also need to be supervised by non-partisan observers “…yes, that’s the key. Find the right disinterested people who really care.

      • magus71 said, on June 20, 2012 at 6:29 am

        We can agree that illegals should not vote, nor felons or dead people?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm

          Of course. My dispute with Scott is not that I think the rolls should be inaccurate, but rather a concern about methods and possible motives.

          • T. J. Babson said, on June 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm

            You made a big deal out of the fact that Florida would not allow voting on the Sunday before the election, yet very few states allow this. In Maryland, for example, early voting ends on the Thursday before the election:


            In Tennessee early voting ends 5 days before the election:


            • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm

              The key concern is not whether other states allow this or not but what it means in Florida. Many people who attend African-American churches in Florida have a long-standing tradition of voting on that day. While it is obviously not impossible for them to vote on other days, banning this will probably reduce participation. There is also the point of concern that there seems to be no sensible justification for changing the voting days. After all, it would seem to have no relevance to voter fraud.

              Out of curiosity, what positive purpose would be served by changing this practice? Do felons, illegals and the dead vote primarily on the early voting Sunday before the normal election day?

            • T. J. Babson said, on June 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm

              “..have a long-standing tradition of voting on that day”

              Can’t be that long of a tradition, since early voting in Florida only began in 2004.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm

              According to this source http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/black-lawmakers-push-early-voting-changes early voting was expanded in 2002, indicating it existed before 2004.

              However, let us assume that it started in 2004. That does allow for a tradition that goes back for several years-surely long enough for it to be established. Also, the black churches take an active role in the early voting, thus promoting turnout and this new rule seems aimed explicitly at dampening this turnout.

              In any case, what would justify getting rid of this early voting? That is, what harms does it generate that warrants banning it?

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 14, 2012 at 10:33 pm

              Here is another tradition:

              A Democrat candidate for City Council in 2009 took the witness stand today in the ballot fraud trial of former City Councilman, Michael LoPorto, in Troy, New York. Robert Martiniano testified that forging absentee ballots is a tradition in upstate New York amongst both parties, but that he had no idea it was occurring to his and LoPorto’s benefit in the Working Families Party primary in 2009.


  5. T. J. Babson said, on June 18, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Niall Ferguson:

    It is surprisingly easy to win the support of young voters for policies that would ultimately make matters even worse for them, like maintaining defined benefit pensions for public employees.

    If young Americans knew what was good for them, they would all be in the Tea Party.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      Why? Because of the cutting of education budgets? Or for whittling away at public services such as fire and police?

      • magus71 said, on June 19, 2012 at 4:08 pm

        If it makes you feel better, the Army is experiencing massive cuts. My brigade is at only 70% strength, while the work load continues as if it’s 100% training and maintainence are falling off. They’re finding any reason to boot Soldiers.

        Google: “Hollow Force.” We’re headed there again.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm

          Same thing in education. We are being cut while our enrollment and workload increases. For example, I’ll get a class that caps at 83 when it is supposed to cap at 35.

          Public institutions cannot run when they are undermanned.

  6. T. J. Babson said, on June 19, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Simple math, Mike. There is not enough money on earth to pay for all the entitlement spending that has been promised. Entitlement spending crowds out all other spending. There is a massive wealth transfer from young people to seniors, many of whom don’t need the money.

    Americans are not going to stand for radically higher taxes. The only solution is to reform entitlements by means testing them.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      The problem is that the Tea Party has an agenda that goes way beyond responsible spending.

      I do agree that we need to overhaul our entitlement system to ensure that it is sustainable and fair. However, there has been little political will to go up against the big entitlements. Hard to blame these folks, though-political suicide is not very appealing.

      • T. J. Babson said, on June 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm

        “The problem is that the Tea Party has an agenda that goes way beyond responsible spending.”

        Actually, it doesn’t, although some of the individual members do.

  7. Anonymous said, on June 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I bet there’s not an entitlement program of any sort, unsustainable corporate pensions , state and federal pensions for public employees, Social Security, or Medicare for the average guy, that wasn’t initiated by people in positions of power who figured they had everything to gain by providing the benefits and nothing to lose. Now,those same powers that be are being forced to back out of those promises we’ll give you great pensions in exchange for lower salaries now or in exchange for no strikes now . We’ll give you a safety net to save you from starving keep you quiet and submissive keep the country afloat until down the road the safety net becomes such a big burden it cuts into our profits then we’ll risk your anger. Fiery streets of Greece don’t seem so far away.

  8. T. J. Babson said, on July 10, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Truth is better than fiction–you can’t make this stuff up:

    *******MEDIA ADVISORY*******


    WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder will deliver remarks at the NAACP National Convention during the plenary session on TUESDAY, JULY 10, 2012, at 12:00 p.m. EDT/11:00 a.m. CDT.

    WHO: Attorney General Eric Holder

    WHAT: Remarks at the NAACP National Convention

    WHEN: TUESDAY, JULY 10, 2012
    12:00 p.m. EDT/
    11:00 a.m. CDT

    WHERE: George R. Brown Convention Center
    1001 Avenida De Las Americas

    NOTE: All media must present government-issued photo I.D. (such as a driver’s license) as well as valid media credentials. Members of the media must RSVP to receive press credentials athttp://action.naacp.org/page/s/registration. For security purposes, media check-in and equipment set up must be completed by 9:45 a.m. CDT for a 10:00 a.m. CDT security sweep. Once the security sweep is completed, additional media equipment will NOT be permitted to enter and swept equipment will NOT be permitted to exit.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 11, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      Are you endeavoring to make an ironic point that while Holder has been opposed to photo id requirements for voting the media must present their credentials to get into the press section?

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