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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Florida has long been an attractive destination for the elderly. Retirees and “snowbirds” who flock to the state comprise an important component of Florida’s economy, but a perhaps morbid corollary is that Florida is well-experienced in dealing with the deaths of its residents. It is therefore imperative that Florida have robust administrative processes for dealing with the ultimate event in the human life cycle. The state needs to efficiently cancel driver’s licenses and social welfare entitlements when residents pass away. Similarly, there needs to be an efficient mechanism to remove the deceased from the state’s voter registration rolls.
Perhaps Ponce de Leon was right. Florida may indeed possess the fountain of youth. How else could one account for Johan George Immelman of Orlando? The voterrecords.com website lists him as an active voter at the chipper age of 169. Voterrecords.com, an online source of publicly available voter registrations, gathers data from official records kept by the Florida Division of Elections – which falls under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State and ultimately, the Governor – and 15 other state election boards. (The specific name of these administrative entities varies from state to state.)
What about Miami’s own active voter Estela Rostran at 162, apparently born back when Abraham Lincoln was still a senator from Illinois? Or Clearwater’s spring chicken, active voter Helen Arambages, who is a mere 125 years old?
The verified oldest person in the world is Japan’s Kane Tanaka at 117, but according to voterrecords.com, Florida has 138 voters older than she, many of them still active voters. These centenarians could be showing up election after election to cast “their” ballots.
The voter rolls do legitimately have a large number of senior citizens, but just how many are legitimate? According to Voterrecords.com, there are 1,656,645 voters in Florida born during or before 1940 (that is, aged 80 and older in 2020). Census projections have the age 80 and over number at 1,177,521. Clearly, as the examples provided by the 169- and 162-year-old active voters and the nearly 500,000-overage in the octogenarian (and older) registered voter category confirm, there is a serious issue with Florida’s voter rolls.
This glaring and most troubling discrepancy is further exacerbated by the fact that not all residents are citizens, and not all citizens register to vote. Furthermore, this problem surely extends to other age groups, perhaps in lesser numbers.
Defenders of Florida’s overstuffed voter rolls will argue that the over count is a result of inactive voters. Definitions of this term do vary across the country, but according to the Florida Division of Elections website, “An inactive voter fails to vote, change/update his or her voter registration record, or request a vote-by-mail ballot for two subsequent federal general election cycles after being placed in inactive status”.. Inactive voters can, in most cases, still vote. While the State says that some have been removed from the rolls in recent years, the cleanup was clearly insufficient given the dramatic over count. Indeed, the improbably large number of centenarians on the records suggests not only an inadequate cleanup, but glaring errors on in the record keeping process.
The aforementioned overstatement in the voter rolls would perhaps not be an issue were there rigorous verification standards when it comes time for voters to cast their ballots. Would-be Florida voters lacking photo identification can request a provisional ballot, which election officials then “signature match”. As many elementary students with poor report cards can attest, it is not only possible, but even easy, to forge a signature. In a state where a national race can come down to a handful of votes – George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by 537 out of nearly six million votes cast in Florida during the 2000 Presidential election, and we all know Florida was the state that won Bush the presidency, – even the 5,109 provisional ballots cast in 2018 could have made a difference in outcome. While they ultimately did not, there were problems that elevate the potential for voter fraud.
Voting rights and laws in various states have become controversial, often breaking down along partisan lines. Democrats accuse Republicans of voter suppression while Republicans accuse Democrats of voter fraud. In Wisconsin, a lawsuit is pending regarding the purge of 240,000 inactive names from the voter rolls. It will likely head to the state’s and possibly U.S. Supreme Courts. Similar cases can be found in Georgia, North Carolina and other states.
The cleanup of voter rolls is often roiled with controversy, and more so in Florida where election outcomes often come down to the wire. In 2018 Governor Ron DeSantis won by approximately 32,000 votes and U.S. Senator Rick Scott won by just over 10,000. After trailing on election night, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried won with less than 5,000 votes that were identified afterwards. The voting centenarians may have had an effect on those, as well as other elections. In 2016, President Trump won Florida by less than 120,000 votes, far less than the nearly half million, unexplained excess of 80+ voters on the rolls. In 2000, President George W. Bush not only won Florida, but effectively the national election, by a mere 537 votes. It led to a recount and eventually a Supreme Court decision that upheld the election results.
The seemingly ongoing glitches within Florida’s election process, particularly in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, whether a result of corruption, fraud, or simply incompetence, can have a dramatic impact on the balance of power, as we have witnessed. Florida’s government has a legal and moral obligation to ensure the integrity of the elections process, so that votes are counted fairly and accurately. Ineligible voters dilute the impact of legitimate voters. The State’s voter rolls should be “scrubbed” regularly, properly and effectively to ensure that every voter’s information is accurate, legal and alive.
Since Ponce De Leon never discovered the elusive fountain of youth he came for, the feats of longevity found on the lists of registered voters in Florida cannot be chalked up to the result of the illusory fountain’s remarkable powers.