Local Summit Takes Up State Voting Policies

Oct 29, 2013

Florida’s ongoing tussle with voting rights took a front seat at Tallahassee’s 10th annual mayor’s summit Tuesday.

In the past four years, the Scott administration has put a stop to the semi-automatic restoration of felon voting rights, and tried to purge the state’s voter rolls of non-citizens. Those topics divided the crowd. Nita Kirkpatrick of Tallahassee says she has friends who split their residency between Florida and other states and vote in both places:

“I’ve just always been amazed that they’ve shared this with me, that they do this, and I just wanted to hear your thoughts on some type of national election process that would be able to help prevent that type of situation from occurring," she said during a discussion led by the ACLU of Florida.

It’s not illegal to be registered to vote in two states. There is no system that cross-checks voter registration between states. But last year, Florida attempted to purge its rolls of ineligible voters – that is to say, those who aren’t U.S. citizens.

The effort was stopped by the courts on the grounds it was discriminatory, and several local elections officials railed against the effort after eligible voters were erroneously stricken from the rolls. Since then, Florida has gained access to a federal database that could catch non-citizens, but wouldn’t necessarily address the issue Kilpatrick raises. ACLU attorney Nancy Abudu says that’s an area where the state should be paying more attention:

“The snow bird example, that is the problem, they shouldn’t be doing that, but I don’t think that’s the message in how the Governor and Secretary Detzner have been packaging the purge," she said. "I participated in one of their town halls...and there was nothing mentioned about snow birds. Everything mentioned was about non-citizens voting and the use of the federal SAVE database.”

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner embarked on a five-city tour this month to meet with local supervisors of elections to hear concerns and take suggestions.  Opponents to the purge have called it an attempt to suppress minority votes, while supporters say it’s needed to combat voter fraud—an issue even state officials have admitted has not been a widespread problem in the past. It is not known yet when the renewed purge will start. A department spokeswoman says the agency continues to explore ways to improve the integrity of the state’s voter rolls.

Meanwhile, the Tallahassee crowd seemed to split on the issue of how soon felons should have their voting rights reinstated.

“I feel like, once your lose your rights and you go to prison, then once you do your time and your out of prison, then I could see getting your rights back, but I don’t think it should be handed to you. I think you should have to work for it," said City of Tallahassee employee Thomas Byrd.

Upon taking office, Scott and the rest of the cabinet reversed a policy put in place by former Governor Charlie Crist, thus making it harder for felons to get their voter cards back.

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