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Former Florida secretary of state discusses struggle to prune voter rolls

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June 4, 2012

Florida

By Maresa Strano

TALLAHASSEE, Florida: Prior to his resignation in early 2012, former secretary of state Kurt Browning (R) was on a mission to create a system for accurately identifying and removing ineligible voters from the state's voter rolls. According to an account Browning gave the Associated Press in May, this pursuit began on the urging of Gov. Rick Scott. Browning was first appointed to the office, which is responsible for managing elections, in 2006 by then Gov. Charlie Crist, and reappointed in January 2011 upon Scott's election to the governorship.[1]

At the time Scott made his initial request for Browning to weed out non-citizens from the voter rolls, the only strategy Florida had in place for determining a resident's citizenship status was to check the state's drivers license database. Known to yield inflated numbers, Browning was reluctant to share the search results with elections supervisors until he could obtain some means of cross referencing the names against a more reliable databse. He sought access to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's tracking system for non-citizens, but was ultimately denied.

When Browning resigned, he did so still unwilling to pass on the list of names generated by the flawed driver's license system to elections supervisors, for fear that acting on the information would incite a "firestorm of press and criticism."[2]

When Ken Detzner (R) took over as secretary this year, he continued his predecessor's efforts to refine the rolls, but diverged from Browning's vein of restraint. "Although Mr. Detzner acknowledged the flaws in the database, he forwarded the names to county election supervisors,"[3] along with instructions to have letters sent to those whose names turned up on the search. The letters' recipients were informed that they must produce proof of citizenship within 30 days or else have their names removed from the rolls.

Detzner's establishment of a 30 day window for flagged residents to verify their eligibility drew accusations of undue voter disenfranchisement by the U.S. Justice Department, in violation of certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act, owing largely to the review's temporal proximity to an election. On May 31, the DOJ issued Detzner a cease-and-desist order, carbon copied for attorney general Pam Bondi, regarding the practice of removing potentially ineligible voters from the rolls with the election less than 90 days away.[4]

An article published in the New York Times on June 1 summarized Florida's ongoing attempts to prune its voter rolls, including Browning's personal account of what happened while he was leading the project prior to his resignation in February. Although Browning originally cited the long commute between his home of Dade City and the Capitol as his reason for resigning[5], the recent article links the secretary's early departure to his struggle to satisfy Gov. Scott's vision for the voter roll review- "Lacking confidence in the search, Mr. Browning resigned early this year," the article reads.[3]

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