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.”

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

FILE - This Jan. 9, 2009, file photo shows equipment inside a pilot plant in Scotland, S.D., that turns corn cob into cellulosic ethanol, a precursor to a commercial-scale biorefinery planned for Emmetsburg, Iowa. Biofuels made from corn leftovers after harvest are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, challenging the Obama administration's conclusions that they are a cleaner oil alternative from the start and will help climate change.

    Study: Fuels from corn waste not better than gas

    Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration's conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

In this March 19, 2014 photo, Oregon Republican Senate candidate, State Rep. Jason Conger, right, speaks as fellow candidate Portland lawyer Tim Crawley, looks on, during a candidate forum in Lake Oswego, Ore. Republicans are making a bold play for a U.S. Senate seat in Oregon, a reliably Democratic state that hasn't elected a Republican to a statewide office in more than a decade. Republicans think they've found the right candidate in Monica Wehby, a children's brain surgeon who's raised more than $1 million and put her early opposition to the president's health law at the center of her campaign to help her party regain a Senate majority.

    GOP making bold play for US Senate seat in Oregon

    The GOP is making a bold play for a U.S. Senate seat in reliably Democratic Oregon, where a Republican hasn't been elected to a statewide office in more than a decade.

FILE - This March 14, 2013 file photo shows House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and House Democratic leaders speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House Republicans’ campaign committee raised almost $10 million in March and has $31.2 million banked to defend the party’s majority, according to financial reports filed Sunday. The National Republican Congressional Committee’s $21.2 million fundraising haul in January, February and March gave the group its best first-quarter showing since 2003. It also puts the committee roughly $8 million ahead of its fundraising at this point in 2012. From left to right are Democratic Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.

    GOP campaign committee has $31M to hold House

    The House Republican campaign committee raised almost $10 million in March and has $31.2 million banked to defend the party's majority, according to financial reports filed Sunday.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category