Still, he could be in trouble. Ortega’s lone trip to the ballot box is in the hands of Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober, whose office received a report from the county sheriff on June 1.
“It’s just now coming into our shop. It’s going to be reviewed, and we’ll go from there,” said Mark Cox, Ober’s spokesman.
It’s a third-degree felony in Florida to “willfully” vote “knowing he or she is not a qualified elector.”
When the county elections office asked Ortega to prove his citizenship in April, he signed a form accepting a finding that he is not a U.S. citizen. He checked a box marked, “I agree with your information and do not require a hearing.”
“He did acknowledge that he is not an American citizen,” said Craig Latimer, chief of staff in the Hillsborough elections office.
Ortega is one of two people removed from the voter rolls in Tampa Bay who voted in an election, according to public records, and is one of 72 voters in Hillsborough listed on the state database of questionable citizenship based on 2011 driver’s license data.
Six other Hillsborough voters produced passports, birth certificates or certificates of naturalization to confirm their citizenship before the agency stopped combing through the list more than a week ago, concluding that it was unreliable.
In Miami-Dade, where more than half of the 2,625 names on the state’s list reside, 14 noncitizens have been removed from the rolls from a universe of 1,637 people.
Only two had a voting record, elections officials said: Ramon Cue, who voted in 1996, and Neville M. Walters, who voted seven times since 2000. Cue told The Miami Herald he is a schizophrenic, doesn’t remember voting and believes three others have his same name and birth date. Walters could not be reached.
In Orange County, one noncitizen has been found to have voted. Denise Francois of Orlando voted in the 2008 primary and general elections, officials said.
Collier County in Southwest Florida has sent two cases of noncitizen voters to law enforcement for further investigation.
Of a list of 13 names provided by the state, Pasco County removed two voters from the rolls; both asked to be removed. One never voted; the other, Raquel Melara, 35, of Dade City, voted in the 2008 general election. Her citizenship status is unclear, Pasco elections supervisor Brian Corley said.
In Hillsborough as elsewhere, most people whose citizenship was questioned did not respond to certified letters, and most have never voted.
In Pinellas County, where the state list includes 37 names, only one voter was removed from the roll: Luis Fernandez, 54, of St. Petersburg’s Snell Isle neighborhood. He registered in 2001 but never cast a ballot. He declined to comment.
Like Ortega, Fernandez agreed with the findings of the elections office that he should not have registered, and signed a statement to that effect April 20.
A more common occurrence, however, is what happened to U.S. citizen Joanna Buck, a native of West Palm Beach who has lived in St. Petersburg for the past 12 years. She got a letter questioning her citizenship only two months after renewing her Florida driver’s license, calling the action “bogus.”
“I own my house and pay my taxes,” said Buck, 54, a private chauffeur and registered Democrat.