TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott will soon launch a new hunt for noncitizens on Florida’s voter roll, a move that’s sure to provoke new cries of a voter “purge” as Scott ramps up his own re-election effort.
Similar searches a year ago were rife with errors, found few ineligible voters and led to lawsuits by advocacy groups that said it disproportionately targeted Hispanics, Haitians and other minority groups. Those searches were handled clumsily and angered county election supervisors, who lost confidence in the state’s list of names.
“It was sloppy, it was slapdash and it was inaccurate,” said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards. “They were sending us names of people to remove because they were born in Puerto Rico. It was disgusting.”
The state’s list of suspected non-U.S. citizens shrank from 182,000 to 2,600 to 198 before election supervisors suspended their searches as the presidential election drew near.
“That was embarrassing,” said elections chief Jerry Holland in Jacksonville’s Duval County. “It has to be a better scrub of names than we had before.”
Election supervisors remain wary of a new removal effort, which the U.S. Supreme Court effectively authorized in June when it struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. That ruling nullified a federal lawsuit in Tampa that sought to stop new searches for noncitizen voters, and Scott quickly renewed his call for action.
“If there’s anybody that we think isn’t voting properly, from the standpoint that they didn’t have a right to vote, I think we need to do an investigation,” Scott said the day of the high court decision. Last fall, Scott joined the Republican Party in a fundraising appeal that accused Democrats of defending the right of noncitizens to vote.
Scott’s top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, is now creating a new list of suspected noncitizen voters by cross-checking state voter data with a federal database managed by the Department of Homeland Security.
Detzner’s director of elections, Maria Matthews, sent a letter to election supervisors Friday, promising “responsible measures that ensure due process and the integrity of Florida’s voter rolls” and vowing to include supervisors “in the planning and decision-making.”
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, chairman of the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus, said Detzner told him the state would resume its purge of potential noncitizens within 60 days.
“I’ve been told that they will go slow,” Garcia said. “I’m completely confident that the process will work.”
Hillsborough County halted its purge last year after several voters on a list of 72 flagged by the state proved their citizenship.
A voter whose citizenship is questioned has the right to provide proof of citizenship in a due-process system that includes certified letters and legal notices.
If the next list is anything like the last one, its burden will fall most heavily on urban counties with large Hispanic populations, notably Miami-Dade.
“Ineligible voters will be removed when their ineligibility is substantiated by credible and reliable data,” said Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley.
Townsley and a half-dozen county election supervisors interviewed across the state were emphatic that anyone who is not a U.S. citizen should not be able to cast a ballot. But they also say the state must meticulously document any case of a suspected ineligible voter and share all data with the counties — including access to the federal database known as SAVE.