Florida Resists Joining Interstate Bid To Cut Down On Double Voting
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Clean voter rolls help an election go smoothly. Those rolls account for who has moved, who has died, whose name has changed. About 1 in 8 voting records in the United States is inaccurate according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. More than 20 states use a cheap and easy way to clean up those records, but in a state that is home to many voting controversies, it's not an easy sell. And that state would be Florida. Renata Sago from member station WMFE reports.
RENATA SAGO, BYLINE: One of Andrew Ladanowski's hobbies is looking at Florida voter rolls. One day he discovered something off. More than a dozen people had cast ballots in two different states.
ANDREW LADANOWSKI: I thought, wow. I said, I must have made a clerical mistake.
SAGO: A closer look found that he had not. Fourteen people in different parties had voted in either New Jersey or New York and submitted absentee ballots to Florida. Now, Ladanowski is pretty used to surprises on Florida voter rolls. In 2013 he discovered that O.J. Simpson, now in a Nevada prison, was still on the state's rolls. He says double voting, though rare, should be a concern for elections offices.
LADANOWSKI: When you move to Florida, there's no requirement for them to ask you, OK, do you have a - you know, even openly ask you which state did you move from. These individuals register in two different states just because they can.
SUSAN BUCHER: We'd like to do everything in our power to try and make sure that that doesn't occur.
SAGO: Susan Bucher administers elections in Palm Beach County where many of those double voters live. They're South Florida retirees she says just don't know Florida law. Bucher sent out a letter reminding her constituents that double-voting is illegal. That's all Florida's 67 election supervisors can do under state law - that and check in from time to time to compare voter lists with other states.
BUCHER: We're working together as much as possible, but a structured, formal process is much better. Most of us have asked the secretary of state to join a project by the name of ERIC.
SAGO: That's short for electronic registration information center. It's an independent database owned by 20 states and the District of Columbia that cross-references records from states that take part. It can identify who moved, who died, who's registered to vote twice and who cannot vote. John Lindback runs ERIC. It's an idea he says came right after the 2000 presidential election.
JOHN LINDBACK: There was a prevailing sentiment among both elections officials and advocacy groups and academics that the inaccuracy of voter registration records was one of the largest elections administration problems in the country.
SAGO: The more states that join and share their data with ERIC, the more accurate the nation's voter rolls. This year alone, the system has discovered more than a million inaccurate records. One quarter of them were people registered in two different states. It would cost Florida $100,000 the first year to join ERIC. As more states join the system, Lindback says those fees will go down.
LINDBACK: The sell is pretty easy.
SAGO: But not so much for the state of Florida, which has refused to join.
TED DEUTCH: There is money that can and I would argue should be used for exactly programs like this.
SAGO: South Florida congressman Ted Deutch has been urging Governor Rick Scott to use ERIC. Florida still has millions in federal funds to fix its voting system as a result of the 2000 election, but the secretary of state said in a written statement that the state does not plan to join ERIC due to legal concerns about sharing voter data with other states. That hasn't stopped other states, and Deutch says Florida lawmakers don't seem interested in solving this problem.
DEUTCH: That should be something that the governor and anyone who believes in our American democracy should support.
SAGO: Even if there's no time for Florida to join ERIC before this November's election, Deutch and the state's election supervisors say they'll keep pushing the state to join the system. For NPR News, I'm Renata Sago in Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.