A BRAD BLOG investigation by Ernest A. Canning & Brad Friedman
Florida Governor Rick Scott's attempted purge of "potential non-citizen" voters --- a purge which Scott's Republican predecessor Gov. Charlie Crist described last week as a "shameless," "mean-spirited," "insidious" and "sweeping" effort to gain partisan advantage "under the guise of removing non-U.S. citizens" --- has been an abject failure.
Scott's claims of success in unearthing "non-citizens" said to be registered to vote in the Sunshine State, repeated by his hand-picked Sec. of State Ken Detzner and uncritically echoed by a compliant mainstream corporate media, have amounted to less --- far less --- than meets the eye.
Over the course of our months-long investigation, which included public records requests and interviews with state and county officials, The BRAD BLOG has discovered that the Scott/Detzner claim of having captured some 107 "non-citizens" on the Sunshine State voter rolls as a result of their purge is, at best, a reckless overstatement. Yet, that number (107), which Scott described as "alarming," has been uncritically accepted as fact by corporate mainstream media.
Even if it had been accurate, 107 would amount to an infinitesimal percentage of the original 182,000 who had initially been identified as "potential non-citizens" by Florida officials --- 107 as against Florida's 11.2 million legally registered voters, with an untold number of perfectly legal voters threatened with losing their right to vote as collateral damage of the state's attempted purge.
But the 107 number isn't even close to being accurate. To the contrary, Florida election officials have been unable to confirm that more than ten percent of those whom Scott and Detzner claim their purge captured were in fact non-citizens.
For example, in the two counties, Lee and Collier, where 92 of Scott and Detzner's claimed 107 have been removed, just nine (9) of them have actually been verified, to date, as "non-citizens" named by Scott and Detzner on their list of "potential non-citizens" sent to county election officials for purging earlier this year. The rest have either been removed from the rolls without independent verification of whether or not they are lawfully registered U.S. citizens, or they were removed after their names surfaced on a separate list that had nothing to do with the list compiled by Scott and Detzner. That separate list, as gathered by a local news outlet, similarly, may or may not accurately identify the named registered voters as "non-citizens".
Despite the extraordinary failure to date, Scott and Detzner have repeatedly proclaimed "victory" in their voter purge scheme. Making matters worse for the general populace trying to make sense of what is actually going on, numerous corporate-owned media outlets have compliantly echoed their extraordinarily misleading and deceptive spin...
Failed from the start
From the moment he came into office, Florida's new Republican Governor sought to exploit the mere possibility that one could find a few non-citizens on the rolls as an excuse to emulate the voter suppression and purge tactics which former Sec. of State Katherine Harris (R) so successfully applied in order to unlawfully bar thousands of legal voters from exercising their franchise during the 2000 Presidential Election --- a suppression that disproportionately disenfranchised mostly African-American and Democratic-leaning voters. The removal of those voters, coupled with such striking anomalies as the Volusia County optical scan system which somehow managed to tally negative 16,022 votes for Al Gore, helped to deliver the White House to George Bush, and, with it, a change in the course of history.
From the outset, Scott's voter suppression plan ran into roadblocks.
The first came from Sec. of State Kurt Browning (R), who refused to institute Scott's requested purge of some 182,000 voters said to have been cross-checked against the state driver's license database to establish citizenship status. Browning, a veteran FL election official, believed at the time that it wasn't "going to fly" because "voter rolls --- like any massive database --- has [sic] errors. And comparing the rolls to another database can compound those errors."
Then, after Browning resigned last February and was succeeded by Scott's handpicked replacement, Ken Detzner, who had no similar qualms about using flawed data, the attempted purge hit another serious snag when 64 of the Sunshine State's 67 county Supervisors of Elections refused to carry-out what Ion Sancho, the legendary independent Leon County, FL Supervisors of Elections, told us was a "shameful" and "un-American" effort to purge "American citizens [who are] perfectly legal to vote."
A motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) in a federal lawsuit alleging that Scott and Detzner were relying upon a database they knew to be flawed in a purge that violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), brought the purge to yet another screeching halt.
Where the corporate-owned mainstream media subsequently reported that the June 27 bench ruling [PDF] by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle was a "victory" for Scott and Detzner, in truth, the only concession these would-be vote suppressors received was Hinkle's statement that election officials can and should remove those whom they know to be non-citizens, even within 90-days of an election.
In fact, Hinkle found "major flaws" in the Scott/Detzner purge. The judge would have granted the Dept. of Justice's requested TRO because, as he noted, the state's attempted voter purge "probably ran afoul" of Section 8 of the NVRA. However, because Detzner's attorneys ostensibly walked into court, threw up their hands and surrendered, promising not to use their flawed list anymore, there was no need for an injunction to be issued. Detzner suspended the purge and agreed it would not resume.
The purge ended, at that point, but the spin continues.
A June 25 report by The BRAD BLOG laid waste to the oft-repeated claims by Scott and Detzner that they had been denied access to a federal immigration database they say was needed to get accurate, up-to-date citizenship status for the registered voters they were questioning. As we detailed in that exclusive report, throughout Florida's discussions with the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told state officials they could access the database only in those cases where they could provide "unique identifiers," such as alien registration numbers, for the names they wished to check for citizenship.
Indeed, as seen in email communications we'd obtained and published between the agencies, the state itself had admitted, as earlier as October of last year, that they simply did not have access to the required "unique identifiers". Yet, a number of media outlets continue to buy into the latest canard that Detzner's belated agreement to utilize that database only when his department can supply the "unique identifiers" amounts to yet another Florida "victory".
In truth, except with respect to those of the Scott/Detzner 107 "potential non-citizens", many of whom may have been erroneously removed from the rolls, it is democracy, not the Florida officials, which can claim victory from Scott and Detzner's embarrassing defeat.
On June 12, fifteen days before Detzner's attorneys walked into a federal courtroom and agreed, at the time, to terminate his fatally flawed purge, Scott announced to CNN's Soledad O'Brien that the "debate" on the efficacy of the FL's voter purge was "over." He would repeat his "the debate is over" line over and over across several mainstream media interviews.
"We found 100 people that are not entitled to vote," Scott boasted inaccurately and misleadingly on CNN, adding that "50 of them voted."
The "debate", of course, was far from over. To date, out of the 107 supposed "non-citizens" out of 2,625 "potential non-citizens" identified to county officials, many remain unverified as "non-citizens," by the admission of the woman responsible for removing the majority of them from FL's rolls.
But even that generous number translates to a 98.4% false positive rate of perfectly lawful citizens who had been erroneously threatened with removal from the rolls as "potential non-citizens," thanks to Detzner's initial, pared-down list.
That list of 2,625 names, according to FL officials, was said to have consisted of the most "sure-fire", reliably "non-citizen" names on the rolls, out of Scott's initial list of 182,000.
Nonetheless, the bulk of the corporate media has continued to uncritically report Scott and Detzner's unverified claim that 107 registered "non-citizen" voters were, in fact, discovered as a result of their ill-fated purge. They weren't.
Although The BRAD BLOG's investigation did not include every county and every voter threatened with inappropriate removal in the wake of Florida's "non-citizen" witch-hunt, the evidence we've confirmed leaves no doubt that Scott and Detzner's claim that their purge netted 107 "non-citizens" --- out of Florida's 11.2 million registered voters --- is a reckless overstatement, at best.
Separate purges, equally unreliable methodologies
Judge Hinkle, in his decision, discussed "major flaws" in FL's Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) database, initially used as a source to help identify "non-citizens" on Scott and Detzner's list of targeted names. Among the errors cited by the judge were simple data-entry mistakes made by clerks, as well as the absence of the ability of citizens to review and correct such erroneous entries.
"Tens of thousands of Florida residents become naturalized citizens each year," the veteran U.S. District Court Judge observed. Since FL requires a renewal of driver's licenses every six years, but the DHSMV didn't even begin collecting citizenship-related documentation until Jan. 1, 2010, the state's "program was likely to have a discriminatory impact on these new citizens."
In other words, if a non-citizen received their driver's license in 2009, but became a citizen and registered to vote in 2010, they would have been erroneously targeted for removal as a "non-citizen", under the state's attempted purge.
In practice, those erroneously identified by this flawed system included more than just "new" citizens. The purge also ensnared natural-born U.S. citizens like Bill Internicola, the 91-year old, Brooklyn-born, World War II veteran and Bronze Star recipient who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and Archibald Bowyer, another 91-year old WWII vet who has been a citizen since the age of 2. Bowyer received his letter, notifying he'd be purged unless he was able to prove his citizenship within 30 days, just as his wife had recently died.
But our investigation found that Detzner's was not the only list of "potential non-citizens" used to purge the rolls within the Sunshine State during this Presidential election year. *
Recall that in 64 of Florida's 67 counties, Supervisors of Elections refused to carry out what Sancho described as a "shameful" and "un-American" effort to remove lawfully registered U.S. citizens from the rolls. Two of the three Supervisors of Election who proceeded with the purge were located in Lee and Collier Counties, where the majority of Scott and Detzner's 107 registered "non-citizen" voters were removed from the rolls by county officials.
The BRAD BLOG interviewed the Supervisors of Elections in both counties, in an attempt to verify that those who had been removed from the rolls there were, in fact, non-citizens.
A list of removed voters [PDF], sent to us on July 11, 2012, by Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington, in response to our Sunshine Act public records request, reveals that, even as former Sec. of State Browning was still refusing to initiate Scott's proposed DHSMV database-linked purge of "potential non-citizens" in the early part of this year, Harrington had taken it upon herself to initiate a separate purge based upon a list of names compiled by local news affiliate NBC2, of registered voters who were said to have denied citizenship on their jury excusal forms.
According to Harrington's list, on Jan. 31, 2012, she removed five (5) registered voters from the rolls, each of whom had returned a signed acknowledgement to her office that they were not U.S. citizens. Per Judge Hinkle's ruling [PDF] in the DoJ's continuing case against the state of FL, the acknowledgements establish that it was perfectly appropriate for Lee to have removed those registered voters. Indeed, if an election official knows that someone is not a citizen, they have a legal duty to remove the non-citizen's name from the registered voter rolls, no matter when that information is acquired.
But, as our investigation confirmed, purges based on juror excusal forms --- just like those based on the state DHSMV database --- provide a less than ideal means for identifying who is, or is not, a U.S. citizen. There are risks that citizens will be inappropriately purged, for example, in the case where an individual may have become a naturalized citizen after they filled out a juror excusal form on which they had previously attested they were not a U.S. citizen.
In a July 4 email to The BRAD BLOG, Timothy C. Durham, the Deputy Supervisor of Elections for Collier County, told us that, initially, his office had failed to determine whether the individuals whose status was questioned via juror excusal forms had become citizens after they filled out the forms. However, he added, this "was something [he] quickly adjusted to."
Durham explained: "Five of the individuals [identified by the juror excusal forms] provided proof of citizenship. Four had become naturalized citizens after filling out the juror excusal forms but before registering to vote...One of the five made an error in her selection on the juror excusal form and that was affirmed by her voter registration history. She intended to select 'I am not a resident of Collier County' not 'I am not a citizen of the U.S.'"
In a July 23 email, Durham advised The BRAD BLOG that he had removed ten (10) voters based on the juror excusal forms which had been "executed after the voter had registered to vote."
It is also possible, of course, that a citizen would, under penalty of perjury, intentionally check "non-citizen" to escape jury duty. While doing may be reprehensible, it is no more so than a certain Supreme Court Justice falsifying judicial disclosure forms over a 20-year span while serving on the highest court in the land and concealing nearly $700,000 his wife received from the right wing Heritage Foundation, before hastily correcting each misstatement over a single weekend, once his falsifications were about to be disclosed by the media.
A citizen does not become a "non-citizen" by stating as much on a juror excusal form, irrespective of whether the assertion was intentional deception or innocent mistake. Removing a registered voter from the rolls based only on such thin evidence --- absent any other corroborating data --- is a process fraught with risks.
Unreliable notification procedures
Judge Hinkle expressly rejected Florida's suggestion that basing a purge on an inadequate database should be of "little import", simply because the state sent letters that afforded the affected individuals the opportunity to request and appear at a hearing to prove their citizenship status. "A state," Hinkle wrote, "cannot properly impose burdensome demands in a discriminatory matter."
As revealed during an interview with Harrington by Brad Friedman, while guest-hosting the nationally syndicated Mike Malloy Show on July 13, Florida's method of notification compounded the likelihood that U.S. citizens, lawfully registered to vote, would be inappropriately removed from the rolls.
Specifically, Harrington explained that she had mailed letters to the "potential non-citizens" by certified mail, return-receipt requested. If someone at that address acknowledged receipt by signing for the certified letter, and then the named individual failed to respond within 30 days, they would be automatically stricken from the rolls even though, as Harrington confirmed, she lacked independent verification that the individual was or was not a citizen --- or that they even ever saw the letter.
According to FL law, if, after multiple attempts by the postal service, no one signed for the letter, notice is to be published in a legal ad in a local newspaper. Then, if the individual still failed to respond, he or she was removed by Harrington from the rolls.
Harrington conceded, in response to Friedman's pointed questions, that she had no way of knowing whether those removed from the rolls had simply been away from home at the time of the attempted delivery of the certified letter. As she acknowledged during the interview, those voters could have been on vacation or even serving in the U.S. military overseas. Either way, since their non-citizenship has not been confirmed, they may find themselves surprised to learn they've been purged once they return to vote this November.
Harrington's July 13 responses, during her on-air interview with Friedman, demolished Scott and Detzner's unverified claim that their purge netted 107 non-citizens, 50 of whom, they claim, had voted in previous elections.
Although Lee County accounts for 56 of the Scott/Detzner 107, the county's Supervisor of Elections was unable to verify that even one of those identified by the DHSMV database was, in fact, a non-citizen.The Scott/Detzner list contained the names of 13 Lee County registered voters. In response to the certified letters sent out by Harrington, two of them proved citizenship; two failed to respond after acknowledgement of receipt of the letter by someone at their residence, and nine, whom Harrington concedes never even received the notice, were removed from the rolls.
Only eight (8) Lee County voters, out of the 56 in total Harrington says were purged from the rolls --- as part of both the earlier jury excusal form purge, and then the later Scott/Detzner list --- had acknowledged non-citizenship. Every one of the eight came from the NBC2 juror list; zero were from the "sure-fire" Scott/Detzner list.
Harrington admits that, for the remaining 48 purged voters in her county --- 85% of those removed in Lee County over all --- she cannot say, one way or the other, whether or not they they are known to be non-citizens. She admits that she has simply presumed non-citizenship from a lack of response --- a response, which, according to Judge Hinkle, those voters had no legal obligation to provide. They are, blatantly, guilty until proven innocent in Lee County, Florida.
The Scott/Detzner purge's failure rate was a bit lower in Collier County. A summary [PDF] provided to The BRAD BLOG by the county reveals that seven of the 27 voters on the Detzner list acknowledged non-citizenship. Two had already honestly revealed their non-citizenship on their original voter registration forms. One voter proved citizenship, leaving a total of 17 out of 26 voters (greater than 65%) whose non-citizenship was simply presumed because they did not respond to the mailed notices.
Durham also advised us that, of the ten voters he removed based on the juror excusal forms, only one "self identified as a non-citizen." Four (4) were removed when they failed to respond after someone at their residence "signed for the certified eligibility letter," and five (5) were removed after notice by publication.
In his initial email, Durham told us that "two voters...have been referred to the State Attorney for fraudulently voting in the 2010 General Election." However, the evidence of alleged non-citizenship in both cases, Durham notes, was "discovered through an examination of Juror Excusal Forms." In a subsequent July 4 email, Durham confirmed to The BRAD BLOG that those two were not identified as potential "non-citizens" by the state DHSMV database list supplied by Detzner's office.
Thus, what started out as a search for non-citizens amongst Florida's 11.2 million registered voters has proven all too reminiscent of Captain Queeg's (Humphrey Bogart) search for the missing strawberries in The Caine Muntiny. A list of 182,000 "potential non-citizens" pared down to 2,635 "sure-fire" names, captured nine (9) confirmed non-citizens.**
That the infamous GOP "voter fraud" fraudster Hans Von Spakowsky gleefully dissembled about FL's voter purge, in a recent National Review article, comes as no surprise. After all, this was the same Hans Von Spakowsky whose credibility on the issue was so thoroughly demolished by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) during last September's U.S. Senate Hearings on the spate of GOP-backed, voter suppression laws enacted around the country since Republicans took over a number of state legislatures in November of 2010.
However, after The BRAD BLOG went to such lengths to set the record straight in independently verifiable report after report here, it is disconcerting to find AP's Charles Babington erroneously describing, as "a victory for Republicans", Florida's agreement "that it can challenge voters [using the federal SAVE immigration database] only if the state provides a 'unique identifier,' such as an 'alien number,' for each person in question."
Had Babington bothered to peruse our previous exposé, let alone carefully scrutinize the email trail we published [PDF] between the FL Dept. of State and DHS, dating back to October 2011, he would realize that there has been no change whatsoever in DHS' position --- ever!
What AP described recently as a "victory for Republicans" was, in fact, nothing more than another Detzner concession. Access to the SAVE database has been, and continues to be, available to any governmental agency that is capable of furnishing the requisite unique identifiers. A county in Arizona has been using it in that fashion for some time. No governmental agency, whatever their purpose, can access the SAVE database without those identifiers. It's just that simple.
Likewise, in light of multiple requests for retractions from a number of MSM outlets, after we'd provided links to our previous article --- an article which upbraided AP and the mainstream media for having erroneously depicted Detzner's abject court capitulation in the face of an otherwise imminent injunction as a Florida "victory" --- it is nothing less than maddening that AP's Babington misreported on July 14 that Judge Hinkle "ruled against federal efforts to stop Florida's aggressive voter list review."
One point of kudos, however: The Orlando Weekly's Erin Sullivan, at least, responded to our coverage and request for correction, by correcting their previously inaccurate article, citing our reportage here at The BRAD BLOG. So what will it take to get the rest of the corporate-owned media to accurately report the news?