The Phoenix Flyer

Collier County did state-required voter roll maintenance. Now, voter protection attorney flags ‘disproportionate’ removal of Democrats

By: - May 22, 2019 4:02 pm

Brandon Peters’ main duty as the new Voter Protection Director for the Florida Democratic Party is to ensure that voters aren’t disenfranchised – which is why he says he’s concerned about the recent removal of inactive Democratic voters in Collier County.

Florida’s Supervisors of Elections are required by statute to perform what is called a “list maintenance” of the voter rolls at least once in odd-numbered years.

Peters notes that a recent, state-required maintenance purge of all inactive voters by the Collier County Supervisor of Elections ended up with nearly 10 percent of all registered Democratic voters being removed from the voting rolls, but only five percent of registered Republicans. Collier County is a GOP stronghold, and registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats already by more than two to one.

“We are very concerned about the disproportionate impact of the voter purge statutes upon the Democratic voter base,” Peters says, adding that he is reviewing the situation with other attorneys and says that “possible courses of action are being discussed and evaluated.”

A spokeswoman for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections sent the Phoenix a tally of voters that were cut from the county’s list per state requirements (more on those later.) It showed that 6,318 Republicans had been removed, 5,457 Democrats, and 7,406 non-party-affiliated voters.

There are currently 103,285 Republicans registered in Collier County, and 46,108 Democrats. Peters says that means close to 10 percent of the entire Democratic voting base in the county has been taken off the rolls, compared to  only five percent of Republicans.

Under state law, voters are moved to “inactive status” if the office sends them an address confirmation final notice and they don’t return it within 30 days. They are also deemed inactive if the notice comes back as undeliverable. Inactive voters remain in the voter file system, however, and are still eligible to vote.

State law says that after a voter is placed on inactive status, they can be restored to active status by updating their voter record, requesting a vote-by-mail ballot or by voting. If they don’t update their record, request a mail ballot or vote by the second federal general election after being declared inactive, the voter’s name is removed from the statewide voter registration file.

Voters can’t be purged from the voting rolls 90 days before  an election. A federal court slapped down former Gov. Rick Scott for attempting to do so before the 2012 election.

Peters is now stepping away from his work as an attorney in Levy County to take on the position as the Florida Democratic Party’s statewide voting protection director. He first became familiar to state party officials last summer during his initial run for public office, where he lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for Congress in Florida’s 2nd District to Bob Rackleff (who ultimately lost to GOP-incumbent Neal Dunn).

Peters sides with critics of the recently passed bill by the Florida Legislature that will limit the number of felons who can vote because it requires felons to pay all fines, fees and restitution (or get a waiver from a judge or the victim) before they can vote.

“People have to pay money to exercise their right to vote,” Peters says. “That’s a poll tax.”

Florida Democrats have also freely used the term “voter suppression” to define an elections reform bill that is headed towards Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. Its key components include changing the dates when Supervisors of Elections sent out vote-by-mail ballots and when the voters must return them to ensure that they are counted on time.

Specifically, the bill moves the last day for voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot to 10 days before an election (currently it’s six days), and prohibits supervisors from mailing out ballots less than eight days before the election. (Current law allows Supervisors of Elections to mail ballots up to four days before an election).

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.