Florida must be accurate this time on check of voter eligibility

October 16, 2013 

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Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett, with voter identification machines earlier this year, said his department has systems in place to guard against absentee ballot fraud following a scandal in Miami-Dade.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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The integrity of America's elections is paramount to our democracy. As Florida prepares to undertake another purge of voter rolls, though, last year's botched attempt at cleansing registration records of noncitizens cannot be duplicated.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner just finished a tour of the state to try to ensure the public that officials would perform better this time -- and not send county elections supervisors flawed lists of eligible voters and minorities.

Detzner's just ended "Project Integrity" tour hinged on the admission of fault in 2012 and the promise of more solid data this time. But there's reason to suspect another debacle.

Last year, the Division of Elections initially identified 182,000 possible cases of noncitizen voter registrations via state drivers license data.

But then that list was chopped to 2,600 before ending up at 198 as elections supervisors decried the process and the timing so close to balloting.

The data provided to county elections supervisors was riddled with errors and inaccuracies. Some voters were improperly removed because they were not citizens when they obtained a driver's license but had later taken the oath of citizenship. Those supervisors finally rebelled and refused to pursue a purge.

This year, the state is cross-checking voter registration rolls with the federal SAVE system, the Department of Homeland Security's System Alien Verification for Entitlements Program database. Yet critics assert the SAVE system is inaccurate and should not be the source to purge voters from eligibility.

There are legitimate concerns that must be tackled. League of Women Voters of Florida President Deirdre Macnab put is bluntly: "The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already warned that this database is not a foolproof means of verifying the voter rolls."

Yet Florida is going to rely on this one source of data? Detzner's assurances of quality control ring hollow.

The state has never addressed the questionable issue of whether or not voter fraud is a problem with specifics. Indeed, last year decorated war veterans -- including one from World War II's Battle of the Bulge -- got listed as suspect on rosters sent to elections supervisors.

To avoid accusations of discrimination against minorities, the state must perform any purge with a process that gives Floridians confidence that this is not a political agenda designed to squelch certain constituencies.

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