Solving Florida's voter-fraud riddle

By TOM JACKSON | The Tampa Tribune
Published: May 20, 2012

As they say in the movies, here we go again.


Election season is upon us and, once more, we're scuffling over the ground rules in this case, maintenance of the voter registration rolls. The bell has sounded, summoning skeptics and cynics out of their corners; now they're circling each other in the ring, probing for advantages.


One side says it's standing up for honest elections, in which every voter and every vote is legitimate. The other side, claiming no less devotion to honest elections, sniffs discrimination against a client constituency in its rivals' tactics.


At issue is a review of Florida's voter rolls, mandated not by the Republican-led Legislature and its ally in the governor's mansion (as you may have read or heard elsewhere), but by the state Division of Elections in response to a question, about 14 months ago, from an elections supervisor in southwest Florida. The supervisor, a fellow of insight, noted a substantial number of folks summoned for jury duty in his county were excused when they identified themselves as non-citizens.


This struck the supervisor as important because potential jurors are dipped not from the pool of licensed drivers or from local utilities customers or even property taxpayers, but from among the ranks of registered voters. And, as Pasco's elections supervisor Brian Corley notes, "It's not a gray area. Either you're a citizen or you're not a citizen." We expect adults to know the difference.


* * * * *Alas, the division for much of the time under the direction of former Secretary of State Kurt Browning, currently candidate for Pasco schools superintendent failed to act until a handful of elections supervisors, Corley among them, met with Browning's successor and his subordinates in February to ask, simply, "Where are we going with this?"


Now, belatedly, Tallahassee has responded with a list of roughly 180,000 suspicious hits, a substantial number of them with names suggesting Hispanic heritage. The first 2,600 were disbursed to county supervisors recently. Well. Thirteen landed in Pasco and, if Corley had hair, he would tear it.


For openers, of course, Democrats, suspicious about the targeting of voters favorable to them, smell a rat. "I don't know why this gets politicized in the first place," Corley says, but he's a big boy, and he can deal with it.


More annoying is the timing. "Suppose we'd done this 14 months ago, when it first came up," he says. Even if the cause is righteous "One fraudulent voter is too many," Corley says the atmospherics are awful.


* * * * *Still, he will not say the responses have not been fascinating.

Typographical errors resulted in two native-born citizens being fingered as aliens: Their driver's license numbers were entered incorrectly. Two others responded by asking for their names simply to be removed from the rolls.


This got Corley's spidey-sense tingling. He's referring their names to local prosecutors.


And that brings us around to the favorite complaint among opponents of efforts to police voter registration rolls: The small number of prosecutions is evidence that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.

Actually, the paucity is more likely evidence of prioritizing scarce resources. Voter fraud is a third-degree felony. State attorneys tend to focus more on first-degree cases, such as violent crime.


Again, even if all 180,000 prove to be bogus registrations, it would amount to barely 1.5 percent of Florida's 11 million-plus registered voters. Still, our memories of 2000, when the presidential election tilted on 537 Sunshine State votes, are fresh. Moreover, with 29 electoral votes more than 10 percent of the number needed to win the White House our responsibility is enormous. We make history here.


"If you want this to go away," says Corley who doesn't? "you prosecute; you make some examples."


What he said. Nobody who supports free, fair and impartial elections could possibly disagree. Could they?
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