Luis Ortega, 29, of Tampa, is the kind of person Gov. Rick Scott has been targeting.
He is not a U.S. citizen.
And he has voted in a Florida election.
Ortega’s name was included among 2,625 suspected noncitizens on the now-famous voter purge list. Though discredited by county election supervisors, the list remains a topic of intense partisan debate and subject of a legal fight between Florida and the federal government.
Scott says he’s determined to preserve the integrity of the voting process by eliminating noncitizens from the rolls.
A Herald/Times review of voter information from Florida’s largest counties, however, has identified only six noncitizens as having voted so far.
Ortega is the only noncitizen in the Tampa Bay area who is known to have cast a vote. He now says it was a mistake.
Two voters were identified by the Miami Supervisors of Elections as having voted, one of them one time and the other seven times since 2000. Collier County identified two noncitizens who voted in 2010. And Orange County officials found a woman there who voted twice in 2008 even though she was not a citizen.
All of their names are being forwarded to state attorneys for potential prosecution.
But critics of the purge say the rarity of the situation proves that the risk of prison time is enough to discourage noncitizens from voting.
“It’s a classic case of using a cannon when a flyswatter would suffice,” said Mark Ferrulo of Progress Florida, a liberal advocacy group that has criticized Scott’s “dragnet” approach to hunting for noncitizens on the rolls. “It puts the burden on eligible voters to prove they’re U.S. citizens, and it’s absolutely a way of suppressing the vote.”
As local elections supervisors suspend county-by-county searches for noncitizens, calling the state’s data defective, Scott defends them as necessary to the effort to rid the rolls of noncitizens. To do it, he points to people such as Ortega, who moved to Florida from Ecuador at age 10 and runs a small Tampa business providing technology services to businesses.
“Florida elections officials have an obligation to protect the right of eligible voters to cast a ballot,” Scott says on a state website explaining his efforts.
“And that includes preventing noncitizens from participating in an election.”
Ortega lives in West Tampa and manages L Ortega & Associates of Tampa Bay, a company that installs computers and provides IT support.
He registered to vote in Tampa in 2004 on a form published in Spanish. He listed no party affiliation and checked “sí” when asked if he were a “ciudadano,” a citizen of the United States.
Elections clerks do not verify the citizenship status of voters. Rather, they rely on voters to tell the truth.
Ortega voted one time, in the statewide general election of Nov. 7, 2006. That was the day Democrat Bill Nelson won a second term in the U.S. Senate and then-Republican Charlie Crist was elected governor.
Ortega, who lives in a modest green stucco home in a working-class neighborhood, declined to comment other than to say he thought his situation was resolved.
“I didn’t do it on purpose. It’s something I wasn’t aware of,” Ortega said. “I realized I had made a mistake. I didn’t intend to deceive the system.”