In a rare display of contrition coming to a Florida city near you, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is acknowledging what civil rights groups and local elections officials had already been saying: Last year’s attempted purge of noncitizens from voter rolls was fundamentally flawed. “I accept responsibility for the effort,” Scott’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, told the Herald/Times. “It could have been better. It should have been better.” Detzner, who serves as Scott’s top elections official, is repeating the mea culpa during a five-day road tour that concludes this week in Orlando, Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale. The apology is part of a sales pitch to the public and supervisors of elections that a second attempt to remove noncitizens from voter rolls, “Project Integrity”, will be better. “We learned from the mistakes we made,” Detzner said. “We won’t make the same mistakes.” But forgiveness is hardly automatic. While encouraged that the admission was made, some said they are hesitant to trust state officials.
“It was quite refreshing that Ken Detzner has taken responsibility, because he really should be contrite,” said Brian Corley, Pasco’s supervisor of elections. “I’d like to think the intentions are pure, but this time I’ll be withholding judgment. They don’t have a lot of credibility with me right now.”
After initially identifying 182,000 suspected non-U.S. citizens by relying on data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the state last year shrank its list to 2,600 and then to 198 before election supervisors halted their searches. Detzner said records for the new effort to remove non-citizens are “credible and reliable”, culled from a set of data used by federal agencies called SAVE, short for Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.
But unlike last year, each one identified as a non-citizen will be reviewed by a state employee, said Detzner and Maria Matthews, the director of the Division of Elections, during kick-off meetings with supervisors and residents in Panama City and Jacksonville. Only after the review will the suspected noncitizen be forwarded on to the supervisor of elections. And unlike last year, when supervisors were sent a list of names of suspected noncitizens with no backup documentation, the next purge will provide relevant supporting evidence, Matthews and Detzner said.