Blunt Instrument

As you probably know, the fine administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott is making no bones about its determination to take every step it can get away with to “purge” the voting rolls of “suspected” noncitizens (a.k.a., suspected Democrats) before this November’s election–preferably so very near to the election that it will be too late to stop or correct.Rolling Stone’s Ari Berman has a timely overview of the blunt instrument of blank disqualifications and other franchise-shrinking steps Team Scott is using without a whole lot in the way of guile or apology:

The latest purge comes on the heels of a trio of new voting restrictions passed by Florida Republicans last year, disenfranchising 100,000 previously eligible ex-felons who’d been granted the right to vote under GOP Governor Charlie Crist in 2008; shutting down non-partisan voter registration drives; and cutting back on early voting….

Florida Republicans have taken voter suppression to a brazen extreme. After the 2010 election, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, instructed Secretary of State Ken Browning to compile a massive database of alleged “non-citizen” voters. Browning resigned in February rather than implement Scott’s plan, saying “we were not confident enough about the information for this secretary to hang his hat on it.”

But in early May his successor, Ken Detzner, a former beer-industry lobbyist, announced a list of 182,000 suspected non-citizens to be removed from the voting rolls, along with 50,000 apparently dead voters. (Seven thousand alleged felons had already been scrubbed from the rolls in the first four months of 2012). On May 8, the state mailed out a first batch of 2,600 letters to Florida residents informing them, “you are not a United States citizen; however you are registered to vote.” If the recipients do not reply within thirty days and affirm their U.S. citizenship, they will be dropped from the voter rolls.

The first batch of names was riddled with inaccuracies. For example, as the progressive blog Think Progress noted, “an excess of 20 percent of the voters flagged as ‘non-citizens’ in Miami-Dade are, in fact, citizens. And the actual number may be much higher.” If this ratio holds for the rest of the names on the non-citizens list, more than 35,000 eligible voters could be disenfranchised.

Add 35,000 to the votes removed from the ballot by the earlier disenfranchisement efforts, and project it to a very close election in a state Republicans believe they must win to take back the White House, and it could be a pretty big deal. But what’s really maddening is how blase Republicans have become about disenfranchisement: voting isn’t being treated as a fundamental right, but as a selectively protected privilege that some categories of Americans are repeatedly forced to prove they deserve. Perhaps this attitude comes from the “constitutonal conservative” belief that government as Calvin Coolidge envisioned it is a divine institution that voters should not have the power to modify. Perhaps it has been influenced by the Randian view of poor people as looters who really shouldn’t be allowed to “vote themselves welfare” in the first place. But it’s there, it’s more blatant than ever, and it could have a big impact on what happens this November.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.