First Amendment advocates in Florida have demanded that election officials release the names of nearly 50,000 felons who could be stripped from voter rolls. The group says it will likely file suit if the state refuses to provide a list. First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said, “This is critical not only to Florida but to the whole country. We don’t want what happened in 2000 to happen again. This information is critical to public confidence.”
Shortly before the 2000 presidential election in Florida, thousands of voters were purged from voter lists, in some cases based on flawed computer lists of convictions. George W. Bush eventually captured the White House by garnering 537 more Florida votes than Al Gore.
State officials say new standards make the purge system better than 2000 and that mistakes should be “minimal.” The ACLU, NAACP and other groups are pressuring county voting supervisors not to purge any voters unless they have hard proof they are felons, who by state law cannot vote.
Petersen said the public has a right to know who is being stripped of voting rights. State officials say they can’t release names of “potential felons” who would be purged. Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Glenda Hood, pointed to a 2001 elections law that prohibits furnishing such names to anyone but government officials, political candidates, parties. or committees.
Petersen argues that the law excluding such information from the public is unconstitutional because it was adopted without meeting a legal requirement to show why closing the information is necessary. Petersen said she is not requesting to see voter-registration records, which is what the law covers. “I’m asking to see the list of purported felons,” Petersen said.