Original post | 3:30 p.m.
Updated | 3:54 p.m.
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration said Thursday it was abandoning its latest effort to purge non-citizens from the voter rolls.
The move was announced by Scott’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, in a memo to county supervisors of elections.
A 2012 attempt to purge the rolls and the planned 2014 effort were controversial with Democrats charging the Republican governor with using the roll cleanup as a ruse to disenfranchise voters who might lean Democratic.
Democratic critics said the problem of non-citizens on the voter rolls was minuscule -- if it even exists. Detzner, at a hearing last year, said he had no way of knowing the extent of the problem.
In its 2012 purge, the state initially claimed to have identified 182,000 non-citizens who'd registered to vote, a number that eventually fell to 198. As doubts about the accuracy intensified, the effort ended shortly before the 2012 election. Helping doom the first version of the purge was the case of a Brooklyn-born World War II veteran who lives in Broward and was mistakenly flagged during 2012's aborted voter roll purge.
One of the biggest critics of the plan to attempt a 2014 purge has been Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher.
For version 2.0, Detzner said last year his office would compare the state’s registered voters with information in a federal database of non-citizens. On Thursday, Detzner said he was postponing the 2014 plan because the federal database is being redesigned.
Kevin Cate, a spokesman for Democratic governor candidate Charlie Crist, said in a statement that the second planned purge “was a mistake from the beginning, and part of a pattern of throwing up roadblocks for Floridians attempting to hold government accountable.”
And the League of Women Voters of Florida said the previous purge attempts were an embarrassment for the state.
Deirdre Macnab, president of the league, said in a statement:
Florida voters should be delighted by this news. Independently elected Supervisors of Elections are already standing sentry on making sure that only eligible citizens are voting. Programs like "Project Integrity" have proven time and time again to disproportionally impact minority voters and erroneously disenfranchise those that are eligible.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said in a statement:
“As we’ve stated since our initial lawsuit challenging the voter purge, there was never any evidence that there was a problem that the purge would fix, but that the purge was simply another voter suppression tool justified by the ginned-up phantom of ‘voter fraud.’ It now appears that the very database that Secretary Detzner and Governor Scott pinned their hopes on and that we had warned was too unreliable to be used for elections is ultimately the voter purge’s undoing."At meeting after meeting of Secretary Detzner’s tour of the state in an attempt to generate support for the so-called ‘Project Integrity’ voter purge, many of the state’s Supervisors of Elections raised the same concerns that we shared about the purge effort, and chief among those concerns was its dependence on a flawed and unreliable federal database. We thank those county Supervisors of Elections who raised the alarm and spoke out against what was not in fact a project about ‘integrity,’ but a transparently political effort to suppress the vote.
“Restoring trust in our state’s elections requires more than paying lip-service to ‘integrity’ while at the same time creating new barriers for legitimate voters. It was irresponsible for Gov. Scott to undermine faith in our elections by creating fear that our voter rolls were filled with illegitimate voters when there was no evidence to suggest it. Today’s announcement confirms that the purge itself was the real threat to election integrity all along.
“Although the purge is dead for the 2014 election, we will remain vigilant against any other effort to make it harder for Floridians to vote and will continue to work to ensure that every legitimate voter still has a voice in our democracy.”