The Florida legislature must pass a “Freedom to Register and Vote Act” this year. The law is necessary because the Sunshine State is a haven for freedom, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. The article even quotes a Florida resident, who said, “If there’s something that I’ll never, ever give up, it is freedom.”
Well said. However, the statement begs the question: Should Florida citizens who are properly registered lose their freedom to vote if a government official and/or a private company hired by the state create a faulty list used to remove residents?
This actually happened to thousands of legitimately registered Florida voters in the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, which George W. Bush won by 537 votes. The Florida victory propelled Bush to the White House. A report by the Brennan Center reveals:
Far too often, election officials believe they have “matched” two voters when they are actually looking at the records of two distinct individuals with similar identifying information. These cases of mistaken identity cause eligible voters to be wrongly removed from the rolls.
The infamous Florida purge of 2000 — conservative estimates place the number of wrongfully purged voters close to 12,000 — was generated in part by bad matching criteria. Florida registrants were purged from the rolls in part if 80 percent of the letters of their last names were the same as those of persons with criminal convictions. Those wrongly purged included Reverend Willie D. Whiting Jr., who, under the matching criteria, was considered the same person as Willie J. Whiting.
The Brennan Center report offers recommendations on how to temper this threat to freedom and democracy. But I think a conservative approach is needed to protect the sacred right to register and to vote. We must create a law that imposes fines and/or jail time for government officials and/or the private companies they hire. Those fines and jail sentences ought to be imposed if we learn — usually after the election — that, oops, sorry, we purged your name from the voter rolls but should not have done so.
Don’t want to pay a fine? Don’t want to go to jail? Great, then first make sure that you “do no harm.” Don’t you dare remove a registered voter from the voter rolls unless you are absolutely certain you are not crushing that person’s freedom to exercise his or her democratic right.
This proposal ought to find Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives rushing to the tv cameras and social media websites, clamoring to back it. Why? Because Florida is a law-and-order state that believes in freedom for people who play by the rules. The legislature should have no problem passing this proposed law quickly and sending it to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.
By the way, there is another reason for the GOP-controlled Florida House and Senate to back the “Freedom to Register and Vote Act.” Lawmakers are hard at work crafting legislation to restrict voting rights based on the “Big Lie” of impeached Sunshine State resident Donald John Trump. Shoring up their support for free and fair elections by protecting Floridians who register to vote is one way to balance the equation at least a little bit.
Unless, of course, Florida is only about limiting registration and voting options, even for the many freedom-loving residents of this state.