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Voter Purging in Florida Targets Latinos and New Citizens

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Today in Florida, there is a new obstacle designed to deter our community from voting. In the hunt to locate non-citizens on the voter rolls, Florida's Governor Rick Scott is now accessing a federal database of immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will now allow Florida to use a law enforcement database called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) to verify the citizenship of voters.



The SAVE Database was created to determine eligibility for government benefits and now be adopted to determine voting eligibility. Short of a state-run voter purging campaign, which had stopped because of its reliance on faulty information, the voter purges will now be allowed to continue to the detriment of U.S citizens whose names were mistakenly on a list. DHS officials had previously denied access to the database, claiming that the information on SAVE is not current and does not provide comprehensive data on all eligible voters, including the native-born.



To use the SAVE database, the state must provide a "unique identifier," such as an "alien number" for each challenged voter, not just names and birthdates. A Florida voter whose citizenship is challenged will get a certified letter; if they fail to provide proof of citizenship within 30 days, they are to be removed from the rolls. Voters who do not respond by mail will have their names posted in a newspaper ad and be given another 30 days to respond.



With less than four months until the Presidential election, a 30 day response hardly seems sufficient time to correct government mistakes. For low income communities, taking time from their employment to answer a letter or meet with an official regarding their mistaken ineligibility to vote may be an unaffordable luxury.



This aggressive and expensive attempt to rectify what is being identified as a systemic problem of non-citizens on the rolls, begs the question: What is the problem? According to the Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud is rare. The non-partisan public policy and law institute released a publication that found, "Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated-- and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked" (p 3).

The failure rate of Governor Scott's previous attempt at voter purge upholds the findings of the study. The vast majority of voters on the purge list are citizens, many of whom are new citizens.

When urged by elected officials, the unrelenting drive to purge voters translates into efforts to suppress people in lower socioeconomic echelons of society from voting.

Florida has one of the largest immigrant populations of any state, and more than half of the people on the first purge list had Hispanic surnames, states the Tampa Bay Times. Latinos are considered a crucial voting bloc in the presidential race; their suppression would decide the victor in November.



Additionally, since the SAVE Database is updated so infrequently, we fear that many new citizens' names may not make it to the SAVE list. New citizens may fear troubling their newly-obtained citizenship and be deterred from voting. What motivation would they then have to visit the polling booth this fall?



Despite the documented evidence that proves the faulty criteria that could prevent thousands of eligible voters from exercising their rights, Governor Scott is proud of what he considers a "step in the right direction," even stating it as a "significant victory for Florida and for the integrity of our election system."



In a country with 38% voter turnout, the federal government should be working with state governments, enabling people to vote --not preventing eligible voters--of any race--from voting at all.

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