Voter Suppression in Florida
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.