Once again, Ken Dentzer, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) handpicked Secretary of State, has unsuccessfully attempted to mount a massive purge of Florida’s voter rolls. And once again, he has been forced to abandon this effort due to his lack of an accurate list of who is and is not eligible to vote.
In a memo, Dentzer told the state’s local election supervisors that the purge would be postponed until 2015. He plans to utilize a new federal database which he believes will be up and running by then and will provide more accurate data on who is and is not a U.S. citizen.
In late 2011, Scott ordered a statewide purge of all “non-citizens” from the voter files. Despite questions about the accuracy of the purge list, Dentzer ordered local elections supervisors to mail letters to thousands in 2012, informing them that they appeared to be ineligible to vote. Hundreds of these letters went to U.S. citizens who were indeed legitimate voters, including a 91-year-old WWII veteran. After seeing the high error rates, even in a pared down list of “sure-fire” non-citizens, election officials of both parties spoke out and called a halt to the efforts. The U.S. Department of Justice also demanded an end to the purge, deeming it illegal under the Voting Rights Act.
Dentzer pared down the initial list to just 198 names of people he deemed non-citizen voters. Even that turned up almost no non-citizens who had actually ever voted — just 39 of the state’s 11 million-plus registered voters. And even that small list included some documented U.S. citizens. Still, Dentzer called the purge effort his “passion” and “moral duty.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, a federal court dismissed the legal challenges and Dentzer announced plans to resume the purge process. Again, local elections supervisors like Republican Deborah Clark spoke out, noting the unreliability of the state’s data. “We just don’t have any confidence in the information the state sends,” she told a local reporter. In October, Dentzer took responsibility for the disastrous 2012 purge and vowed that the next one would be better. “We learned from the mistakes we made,” he claimed. “We won’t make the same mistakes.”
Local elections supervisors cheered the news Thursday that there would be no further purge attempts in 2014. “It is a good idea to postpone the project until we’re sure we have it right,” Citrus County Supervisor Susan Gill (R) told the Tampa Bay Times. “The closer it gets to the election, which I know you’re well aware of, the more likely is it is that we’ll get a lot of criticism.”
Scott is up for re-election this November. Should he lose, his replacement would likely be able to appoint a new Secretary of State before any 2015 purge.