Over the next week, Secretary of State Ken Detzner will visit five Florida cities to discuss a second attempt to purge non-citizens from voter rolls without repeating the mistakes from the first try.
“I accept responsibility for that effort,” Detzner said. “It could have been better. It should have been better. We learned from the mistakes that we made. We won’t make the same mistakes.”
Starting with a round table Thursday in Panama City, Detzner will try to convince Florida’s supervisors of elections that this time, the Division of Elections will get it right. An attempt made last year before the elections was marred by errors and led to lawsuits by civil rights groups that said the purge disproportionately targeted Hispanics, Haitians and other minority groups.
“It was sloppy, it was slapdash, and it was inaccurate,” said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards.
In June, on the day when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act, Gov. Rick Scott suggested another purge would resume. But until now, Scott and Detzner haven’t revealed many details about how it will unfold. Detzner said the five-day road tour this week and next will change that.
After Panama City, Detzner and Division of Elections officials will meet in Jacksonville on Friday, Orlando on Tuesday, Sarasota on Wednesday and Fort Lauderdale on Thursday.
“What I hope will come out of this experience is to grow the collaboration between the Department of State and the supervisor of elections.”
Detzer believes that the data that Florida has to use to identify non-citizens this time around is better than the data used last year. Florida sued the federal government to get access to a database used by federal agencies called SAVE, which is short for Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements. Although maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, SAVE is used by numerous other agencies to determine the immigration status of benefit applicants so only those eligible receive them.
Last year, Florida relied mostly on data from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that identified some with driver’s licenses with an alien identification number. Detzner said that number was frequently outdated because the license holder had subsequently received citizenship, which resulted in many eligible voters getting flagged. This time, those DHSM records will be cross-referenced with those in the SAVE database, which should be up-to-date, he said.
“I feel comfortable that we will present supervisors with credible and reliable information,” Detzner said.
During the roundtables, Detzner will listen to supervisors about what they need to provide elections that are smoother and glitch-free. He said if they need money, he’ll lobby counties and the Legislature for them, as well. He said he expects representatives from civil rights groups will show up to object, as well.
“We will take questions from the public as time permits,” Detzner said. “I have to be impartial and listen to everyone.”
He doesn’t know when the purge will begin. He said he first needs to know how many counties want access to the SAVE database. Getting access takes time, so those who want it would need to pass background checks, he said.“We really are entering a new chapter in this process.”