The United States prides itself for its egalitarian democracy, a democracy inwhich the weight of one’s vote is the same whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, and regardless of race. No right is more fundamental to American citizenship than the right to vote. Yet if voting is a right for all eligible citizens, then it should not have to be earned, and re-earned, over and over again. This is exactly what Florida risks, however, with Gov. Rick Scott’s renewed call for categorically removing alleged noncitizens from its voter rolls. Secretary of State Ken Detzner is creating a new list of suspected noncitizen voters by cross-checking the Department of Homeland Security System Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE) database with the state voter data. Given the long lines of citizens waiting to vote, Florida officials should know by now that voting is taken very seriously here. Yet this renewed call for another purge of alleged noncitizens shows the rest of the country that Florida is where rights become privileges.
First, there’s the problem with using the SAVE database — a list that is not a complete or accurate list of U.S. citizens and, therefore, not a definitive check for whether a person is a noncitizen. This explains why even the Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged, in the agency’s agreement with Florida which allowed the state to use SAVE for voter list maintenance, that “the inability of the SAVE Program to verify (a person’s) citizenship does not necessarily mean that (the person is) not a citizen of the United States.”
We also know from experience that these types of purges ensnare eligible citizens, and have a disparate impact on voters of color. This was certainly the case last year, when election officials created a list of 2,600 alleged noncitizens. More than 82 percent of these Floridians were voters of color, and in Miami, where most of the targeted voters lived, more than 98 percent of 562 people who responded to notice letters proved that they were eligible citizens. Only after the state was sued multiple times were erroneously removed voters restored back to the rolls.