So if the state sent elections supervisors a list that wasnt vetted enough, it would cause an uproar. Democrats and liberal elections groups and civil-rights groups, long aligned with the U.S. Department of Justice, would pounce, hold press conferences, gin up the news media and sue. And, because the noncitizen effort by definition targeted immigrants, it would disproportionately hit Hispanics and Haitians. Indeed, about 87 percent of those on the 2,700-person list are minorities.
Lastly, the frontline officials in charge of each countys voting rolls the 67 election supervisors, the overwhelming majority of them elected would balk.
Browning refused to release the list.
I consciously decided not to get them in the loop, Browning said. I didnt feel comfortable rolling this initiative out. Something was telling me this isnt going to fly. We didnt have our Is dotted and Ts crossed when I was there.
Browning called it his Spidey sense, and said he was not just concerned with the numbers, but how they were obtained. His agency wasnt doing the checking. Instead, it shipped names to highway safety, which performed the checks.
We were not getting first-hand data, he said. I wanted to make we are 99.9 percent certain. I wanted to make sure the data was good if it went out under my name.
Browning said theres a good chance the names would never have been released. It wasnt a front-burner issue. Rick Scott didnt order me to do this.
All of that appeared to change by coincidence in February.
Browning was leaving office. At the same time, a local television reporter at NBC2 in Fort Myers decided to match Lee County voter rolls with a list of people who were excused from jury service after they said they were noncitizens. NBC2 reported finding nearly 100 noncitizens on the rolls. The local elections supervisor has found more than 40.
Republicans, long concerned that phony voters were on the rolls, started wondering what the state was doing about noncitizen voters. Scott and Brownings successor, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, felt pressured to release the list, which the state did in April, Browning said.
I would not have sent the list to the counties, Browning said, adding he cannot second-guess Secretary Detzner because I wasnt up there. I dont know what the discussions were.
Still, Browning said he would have given a great deal of pushback about sending any list out.
The Scott administration figured that legitimate citizens listed as potential noncitizens werent really in danger of having their voting rights removed. After all, they would have up to 60 days to prove their citizenship and remain on the rolls. And even if they were removed, they could be reinstated rather easily or even cast provisional ballots on Election Day in worst-case scenarios.
So in April, after checking and rechecking its list, the state sent the supervisors a batch of nearly 2,700 names.
It was filled with the high level of false positives that Browning feared. One potential noncitizen, Bill Internicola, was anything but. The Broward resident is a U.S. born World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He held a press conference with Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch to bash the purge.