Florida does not have a good track record with voter purges. In 2000, Florida’s efforts to purge persons with criminal convictions from the rolls led to, by conservative estimates, close to 12,000 eligible voters being removed because the state’s process was so imprecise that an eligible voter named John Michaels could be confused with an ineligible person named John Michaelson. In 2004, Florida’s purge had a blatant racial disparity. Now, in 2012, Florida’s Secretary of State recently announced new efforts to purge Florida’s voter rolls. The initiative purports to be targeting non-citizens and deceased persons for removal from the voter rolls, but because Florida’s past efforts purged eligible voters from the rolls, careful scrutiny is warranted to ensure eligible Americans will not be blocked from voting. Clean voter rolls are very important. We all benefit when states undertake responsible list maintenance procedures. Because the fundamental right to vote is at stake when voter list cleansing efforts are undertaken, the process must be transparent, accurate, and under reasonable time frames, especially when the list maintenance effort is of the scale Florida is proposing.
Part of the problem with voter purges is that they happen inside someone’s office and outside the public eye. For example, Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a public releaseannouncing the purge effort earlier this month, but the initiative started in early 2011. So far he has only revealed that election officials are working with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to cross-reference voters’ information contained in various databases. But the press report does not explain anything more to the public. How can we know the process is being undertaken carefully? How can a voter incorrectly removed be put back on the rolls?
This lack of transparency illustrates another problem: purges are not always undertaken with the accuracy and care that is required. For example, to identify deceased persons on the rolls,Florida officials compare voter information with federal Social Security files. But a simple comparison offers insufficient protection for voters. The Social Security Administration admits there are errors in its database — 14,000 people are improperly recorded as deceasedeach year — and typos, bad handwriting, similar names, and basic statistical principles can lead to mix-ups between eligible and ineligible voters.