Threaten to curb someone's right to own a gun in the state of Florida and you're likely to provoke a war — you'll be threatened, castigated, called un-American. You'll have to pry that gun from its Second Amendment-invoking owner's cold, dead hands, and you'll have to battle with legions of lobbyists and outraged citizens who'd rather shoot you than let you violate their constitutionally protected right to bear arms.
But threaten to take away someone's right to vote — a right that's at the very foundation of a democratic society — and what happens? Not much, judging from the recent attacks on voter's rights in Florida in which Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner have pushed to scrub voter rolls of alleged "non-citizens" who don't have the right to vote. By all accounts, their strategy is bizarrely flawed, has swept legally registered voters up in its net, and has been declared a violation of federal voting laws by the US Department of Justice. Yet it continues.
Scott and Detzner's action threatens to undermine our right to have any control over our government at all — but for some reason, it's awfully quiet out there right now. There are no lobbyists swarming the state Capitol and there aren't very many outraged citizens demanding a stop to this effort to pluck people off the voter rolls. A handful of progressive citizens groups — the usual suspects — are trying to drum up interest, outrage, and support.
Where is everybody else on this?
"Well, that's a good question," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. "I don't know. I'm equally frustrated by that. Where is the outrage, to use what is now a trite phrase. I don't know. I'm sorry to say that Americans are too willing to wake up in the morning and read the newspaper and express their outrage to themselves over a cup of coffee and the morning paper."
It's not like nobody cares about the situation: The federal government is suing Florida because the voter purge violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the state is suing the federal government so it can get more information to more efficiently purge the voter rolls; and the ACLU and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are suing the state to prevent the purge from moving forward. But the civil rights organizations and government interests shouldn't be the only ones to care. You should care. We should care. Everyone should care — even if you don't live in the state of Florida. And here's why: The state's voter purge is not just a slimy strategy to win an election. It's an attempt to degrade our voting system, undermine our elections, and suppress people's ability to vote — particularly people who are minorities, many of whom are undecided voters or vote for more liberal candidates. The voter purge is an assault on our freedom and our self-determination — and it's spreading.
A Tea Party-backed effort begun by an organization called True the Vote is suing states to force them to enact purges of their own. The organization's mission, according to its website, is to "promote ideas that actively protect the rights of legitimate voters, regardless of their political party affiliation." Underlying the organization's rhetoric is the unstated conclusion that our government is corrupt not because money taints our legislatures and Congress, not because corporate interests are put before the interests of the citizens of this country, and not because our electoral system is set up so that the richest (not the best) candidates win elections. True the Vote's angle is that our biggest, most pressing problem is that some people who are registered to vote are either dead or illegally registered. The organization has partnered with Judicial Watch on its "election integrity" project and the two organizations have multiple states — California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, West Virginia, Alabama, and Florida — in their crosshairs.
"There appear to be more individuals on voter registration lists in these states than there are individuals eligible to vote, including individuals who are deceased," Judicial Watch warns on its website. "Judicial Watch's initial warning letters notified election officials in Ohio and Indiana that they are required by law to 'maintain accurate lists of eligible voters for use in conducting elections,' and that Judicial Watch is prepared to take legal action if election officials fail to clean up their voter rolls."
But according to Simon and other civil rights watchdogs, this isn't a matter of cleaning up the voter rolls at all — there are already laws on the books that address legal consequences for those who vote illegally. But they're not being heavily enforced.
"Clearly there probably are people who are illegally registered," Simon said. "And I do not know if maybe they have illegally voted, but that's a third-degree felony in the state of Florida if they did, and maybe they should be prosecuted for that, and if they were, maybe that would send the message to other people. So we can't let the governor get away with the idea that he is trying to protect the integrity of the electoral system. Of course the integrity of the electoral system should protected."
But not at the cost of your right to vote — our right to vote. "What I find most offensive is the kind of 1984 Orwell speak, you know, knocking people off the voting rolls, knocking American citizens off the voting rolls as collateral damage in the search for the few people who may be on the voting rolls illegally," Simon added. "This is what this governor calls protecting the integrity of elections. Normal people would call it depriving legitimate voters of their right to vote."