Politics & Policy

Not-Great Scott of Florida

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Why would the Sunshine State’s GOP governor open the door to non-citizen voting?

Governor Rick Scott of Florida has doggedly pursued pro-growth policies that have helped make his state, which is the third-largest in the nation, a success story. I praised him as recently as last month for his inaugural address calling for further tax cuts and budget reform.

But when Scott runs off the rails, he creates a real train wreck. In 2012, he infamously proposed expanding the state’s Medicaid program to comply with Obamacare. He was rescued from that folly only by his Republican legislature, which knew that Washington couldn’t be trusted with its end of the bargain.

Now he has once again confounded his allies and emboldened his critics. This time, it’s about his failure to block non-citizen voting.

After years of legal battles between the governor’s office and the Obama administration, a federal-appeals-court panel issued an astonishing ruling last November. It forbade Florida from removing aliens here illegally and other non-citizens from its voter rolls in the 90 days prior to a federal election. Because Florida has a September primary, that means it would be effectively blocked from cleaning its voter rolls after early June of any election year. The panel overturned District Judge William Zloch’s earlier ruling, which had concluded that such an interpretation would “stand in direct contravention of Florida law [and] produce an absurd result.”

So absurd that both Judge Zloch, a Reagan appointee, and Judge Robert Hinkle, a Clinton appointee, have tossed out the claims of the Holder Justice Department and its liberal allies and affirmed Florida’s laws against non-citizen voting. After the two judges ruled, even the Holder Justice Department gave up and withdrew from the case. But its liberal allies persisted and hit the jackpot with a rogue ruling last November from two Obama-appointed judges on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The problem of non-citizen voting is real. “A recent Cooperative Congressional Elections Study calculated that 6.4 percent of non-citizens in the U.S. voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of them did so in 2010,” Peter Kirsanow, a commissioner of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, has reported at NRO. “Even if those figures are high and only 1 percent of aliens in Florida vote in 2016, nearly 10,000 unlawful votes would be cast — almost 20 times the margin of victory in the 2000 presidential election.”

Indeed, in 2012 the NBC affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla., reported that it had found at least 100 individuals in just one county who had been excused from jury duty because they were not citizens but who were registered to vote. Many had also voted in at least one election. One voter, Yvonne Wigglesworth, didn’t know how she had gotten registered, but she had cast a ballot in six elections over the previous eleven years.

President Obama has made matters worse with his highly questionable executive actions allowing many illegals to stay in the U.S. Last month, Secretaries of State Jon Husted of Ohio and Kris Kobach of Kansas wrote Obama to warn that his actions could lead to more illegal voting by non-citizens. Secretary Husted also complained that his office hasn’t been given access to Social Security data that would help him identify non-citizens on the rolls. “Every year there are thousands of state and local elections in Ohio, and in the last 15 months alone, 70 elections were decided by one vote or tied,” he wrote. Kobach added, “It is a certainty that the administration’s executive actions will result in a large number of additional aliens registering to vote.”

It should have been a no-brainer for Governor Scott to appeal the “absurd” Eleventh Circuit Court ruling to the Supreme Court. He had the sole power to decide the issue. In a press release announcing the decision, his office claimed he had everything under control: “Florida is in an excellent position to conduct fair elections. . . . We will never stop working to eliminate fraud and abuse and make further improvements when they are needed.” Hogwash. It’s as if Governor Scott had decided to tie both his hands behind his back and then declared he was fully prepared to box a ten-round fight.

Florida officials are gobsmacked over Scott’s decision not to appeal. So are national voter-fraud experts, such as Judicial Watch and True the Vote. “The decision not to appeal is one of the stupidest decisions by an elected official on a voting issue I have ever seen” says Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission member and my co-author on a book about voter fraud, Who’s Counting: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk. “To allow such an absurd decision to stand — that states cannot remove non-citizens who were never eligible to vote from the voter rolls — is irresponsible.”

“Some say his decision was rooted in political correctness,” one lawyer close to the case told me. “Some say it’s the product of a new green staff who moved into the governor’s office from his campaign office. Some say he’s been distracted.”

No kidding. Scott’s second term so far has been a mess. He has become embroiled in a scandal over how Gerald Bailey, the longtime head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, was abruptly fired in January. Bailey says he was dismissed in part because he refused to hire political cronies, would not permit his officers to chauffeur Scott campaign staffers, and declined to investigate an acting county clerk he believed was being unfairly targeted .

Florida’s cabinet consists of Governor Scott and three other Republican officials, each elected in his own right. All say they were not informed about Bailey’s firing and one, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, wants an investigation because of allegations the firing was planned in private e-mail accounts, in violation of Florida’s transparency laws. Scott calls all the allegations “ridiculous,” but he did apologize to the cabinet earlier this month for handling things poorly.

Governor Scott has now compounded his problems. His allies find his behavior inexplicable, his critics are emboldened, and he is increasingly retreating into a bunker mentality. By abandoning the vote-integrity legal battle he had waged for years just when victory was probably one appeal away, he has ensured that the problem of non-citizen voting will grow and he has weakened officials in other states who are still determined to address the problem.

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for NRO.


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