Goodman: Florida should resist Trump’s bogus vote-fraud fishing expedition (but probably won’t)

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, meets with then President-elect Donald Trump in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

At least 44 states have pushed back against the White House’s jokingly named Election Integrity Commission’s request for detailed voter information — none so colorfully as Mississippi’s “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico” — but Florida is still ostensibly making up its mind.

“We are reviewing [the request],” Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Secretary of State, said Tuesday afternoon in an email.

Here’s a suggestion to Revell’s boss, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner: Just say no.

MORE: Florida one of few states still silent about Trump voter data request

But this being the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, I don’t expect him to take the advice.

Last week, the voter-fraud panel sent a letter to all 50 states, asking their top election officials to send all available information, if publicly available in their state, about voters’ names, birth dates, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and their voting history going back to 2006.

Some of the resisting states simply don’t like the idea of the federal government amassing a master list of voters.

But some see this for what it is: an attempt by President Trump to find the phantom 3 million to 5 million “illegal voters” he claims, without a scintilla of evidence, to have voted for Hillary Clinton. It’s his explanation for losing the popular vote last November.

And at the same time, this sweep looks intended to amass a national database which will be used to spot supposed cases of voter fraud, Republicans’ favorite rationale for passing laws to suppress the vote.

It doesn’t take a deeply conspiratorial imagination to think that. The commission’s letter was written by its vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — perhaps the most avid vote-suppressor in politics.

Just yesterday, Maryland became the latest state to refuse the commission, on the advice of its Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat, who called the request a “repugnant” maneuver to “intimidate voters and to indulge President Trump’s fantasy that he won the popular vote.”

Frosh continued: “Repeating incessantly a false story of expansive voter fraud, and then creating a commission to fuel that narrative, does not make it any more true. There is no evidence that the integrity of the 2016 election in Maryland — or any other state — was compromised by voter fraud.”

Some of the 29 states are offering only partial information because their states prohibit the release of certain items. Ironically, one of the state officials unwilling to fork over everything, as requested by Kris Kobach, is Kris Kobach. He said Kansas won’t share Social Security information with the commission.

That’s Florida’s most likely route. Voter registration information is public record in Florida. In fact, it’s easily downloadable. So Trump’s commission should have no problem scooping up lots of data about Florida voters.

But some things cannot be made public, by law: Social Security numbers, driver license numbers and Florida I.D. numbers. Voters’ signatures can’t be copied.

Apart from that, the Scott administration will probably want to help Trump’s bogus crusade as much as it can. It has a history in this sorry pursuit.

In 2011, Scott ordered his then-Secretary of State, Kurt Browning to “identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.” The non-citizens were supposed to be identified by comparing the voter rolls to the motor-vehicles department  records. Soon enough, the database matching coughed up 182,000 names. But Browning considered it so inaccurate, he refused to pass it along to county election officials. He resigned in February 2012. The new man, Detzner, was happy to comply.

Thousands of Floridians — no surprise, most were Hispanics, Democrats and independents — began receiving letters, informing them they’d be scrubbed from the voter rolls unless they produced proof of citizenship in 90 days. But before long, Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, along with the supervisor in Hillsborough County, refused to participate; the information was too old and too haphazard to trust. One of the targeted voters was a Brooklyn-born, 91-year-old World War II veteran living in Broward County.

Within weeks, all the state’s elections supervisors, including 30 Republicans, refused to take part in the purge, but not before about 85 people were tossed off the rolls. Federal courts eventually declared the scrubbing illegal.

So: We know from our own recent history here in Florida that these database searches for suspicious voters are prone to error.

We also know from plenty of studies that the supposed evil of widespread voter fraud is … well, itself a fraud.

As the Philadelphia-based national political writer Dick Polman (a former colleague of mine) writes:

An election specialist at the Loyola School of Law, Los Angeles, crunched the national numbers from 2010 and 2014, and found a grand total of 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation – out of one billion votes cast.

Elsewhere, the Brennan Center at New York University Law School found that the fraud rate in America is somewhere between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent; it’s more likely, said the center’s report, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

Elsewhere, two studies at Arizona State University found 10 voter impersonation cases nationwide from 2000 to 2012.

Elsewhere, another national study looked at fraud cases from 2000 to 2012 and concluded that “the rate is infintesimal.”

All told, at least a dozen more studies, and court opinions, have reached the same conclusion. And lest we forget, when Pennsylvania’s ruling GOP tried to enact a photo ID law in 2012, ostensibly to thwart widespread statewide voter fraud, the GOP’s lawyers were compelled to admit in court papers that they were unable to cite a single case.

None of this, sad to say, is likely to sway Rick Scott. Which is too bad for the cause of genuine election integrity.