Florida county elections supervisors won't resume voter purge

 

The Miami Herald

Florida’s noncitizen voter purge looks like it’s all but over.

The 67 county elections supervisors — who have final say over voter purges —are not moving forward with the purge for now because nearly all of them don’t trust the accuracy of a list of nearly 2,700 potential noncitizens identified by the state’s elections office.The U.S. Department of Justice has ordered the state to stop the purge.

“We’re just not going to do this,” said Leon County’s elections supervisor, Ion Sancho, one of the most outspoken of his peers. “I’ve talked to many of the other supervisors and they agree. The list is bad. And this is illegal.”

So far, more than 500 have been identified as citizens and lawful voters on the voter rolls. About 40 people statewide have been identified as noncitizens. At least four might have voted and could be guilty of a third-degree felony.

The eligibility of about 2,000 have not been identified one way or the other.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner says he hopes to get the supervisors to reverse course by working more closely with them. His effort has also inspired a noncitizen voter-purge movement in North Carolina, whose secretary of state Detzner plans to speak with on Friday. And while the Florida purge has halted, the fight between the state and the feds has just begun now that the Justice Department demanded last week that the state cease the purge due to two federal voting laws. Detzner said the U.S. government didn’t just get the law wrong, it’s harming the state’s efforts to remove ineligible voters by refusing to provide Florida access to a citizenship and immigration database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

“We need to do a better job,” Detzner acknowledged. But we can’t do a better job. And the reason is Homeland Security has pushed us back.”

Detzner, whose office has been requesting access to the database since October, has asked to sit down with Homeland Security to meet its demands and get access to the database. That way, the state could produce a more accurate and easy-to-check list for elections supervisors, he said. Without access to the federal database, the state matched its voter rolls with a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles database that contains some citizenship information gathered when someone gets a state-issued ID.

But that database isn’t updated when a person becomes a citizen. So many people became U.S. citizens and then lawfully registered to vote — but they can look like noncitizen voters when the elections department compares the motor-vehicle database against. To get around the problem, DHSMV has asked the federal government to give it updated citizenship information.

That would make Miami-Dade Election Supervisor Penelope Townsley feel more comfortable. She said in a written letter last week that she was concerned the list was unreliable and was “only as good as the last time the voter made contact with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.”

Miami-Dade has determined that 514 people on the list are citizens. About 14 are noncitizens. At least two have voted and have had their names forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office for investigation.

Townsley faulted the state for producing a list of about 1,600 voters that had no backup information and that contained duplicate IDs and the names of already removed voters, including three dead people.

“I find the state’s Non-Citizens Match list to be unreliable and insufficient, on its own,” Townsley said.

Still, if people respond to her office by telling it they’re noncitizens, they’ll be removed. But, for now, Townsley’s doing no more. Had she not halted the process, those potential noncitizens who had not responded to the certified letters sent by her office would have been removed from the rolls within about 60 days.

Now, those who do not respond to the letters will remain on the rolls.

Collier County has adopted the same policy as Miami-Dade, a spokesman said. Collier has removed 10 people from the rolls.

Democratic, liberal and minority-rights groups have expressed concern with the fact that 87 percent of those on the potential noncitizens list are minorities.

Meantime, conservative tea party groups have started to support Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and Detzner. Some are starting to visit local elections supervisors to make sure the noncitizen checks continue or restart. “We’re going to keep the pressure on, all over the state,” said Billie Tucker, co-founder of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville. “We want noncitizen voters prosecuted. We don’t know how many are out there.”

Critics of the state’s program said they were concerned the program put the burden of proof on voters, the overwhelming number of whom so far have been shown to be lawful citizens.

The Department of Justice last week said the state’s purge came too late. Under a federal law commonly known called “motor voter,” state purges must end 90 days before a federal election — May 16 this year. (The Florida state primary is Aug. 14.)

DOJ also said the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required the state to get permission for the purge.

But Detzner disagreed. He said in a response Wednesday that the federal government had already given the state permission for noncitizen voter purges in the past. And, he said, the 90-day no-purge rule only applies to programs that remove once-eligible voters who become ineligible.

Since noncitizens have never been eligible to vote, they can be systematically identified and removed at any time, Detzner said in his letter. He also asked the DOJ to answer by Monday questions about removing noncitizen voters and whether Homeland Security should cough up its database.

“I can get Penelope Townsley and the other supervisors where they want to be,” Detzner said. “I’m an eternal optimist.”

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