By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Gov. Rick Scott’s controversial voter purge came back to life this week. State officials sent local elections supervisors a list of 198 people suspected of being non-citizens who are currently on the voter rolls.
The state said about 38 of those registered voters had cast a ballot in the past, despite their ineligibility.
The first incarnation of the voter purge in May, which included about 2,600 names, was fraught with errors. The biggest problem was that it identified many actual citizens as non-citizens.
Those against the purge also accused Scott of improperly removing voters 90 days before an election, among other complaints.
Democrats and minorities were also more likely to be purged from the rolls when compared to Republicans, which also upset voting rights activists in the state. However, the inaccuracy of the initial list ultimately caused local election officials in the state to stop the voter purge, per the suggestion of their lawyers.
Now, the state has access to a federal database that the state uses to cross-reference the names on their list. This was an effort to vet the accuracy of their own list and get some opponents of the purge to drop their main complaint.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s office said the new list was produced by comparing Florida’s 12-million-person voter rolls with a federal immigration database called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.
“This is a new process based on the SAVE database,” said Detzner’s spokesman, Chris Cate.
“The state is not telling county elections supervisors, ‘Remove these people.’ We are providing information for the counties to examine,” Cate said. “The supervisors have the discretion to keep anyone who is on this list on the voter rolls.”
Under state law, county elections supervisors will send a certified letter to anyone flagged as a potential noncitizen. The person will have to show proof of citizenship to remain on the rolls.
Some county elections officials say they are receiving names of people whom they have already removed from the rolls because they have admitted they are not U.S. citizens.
There’s also a matter of timing. With 39 days until Election Day, local officials say they can’t comply with notice requirements before removing voters, meaning some noncitizens could cast ballots in Florida, the situation Gov. Rick Scott wanted most to avoid.
…In Orlando, Orange County elections chief Bill Cowles sees a redundancy: Five of 12 suspicious Orange voters on his new list have already been removed from the rolls after signing a document admitting they lacked U.S. citizenship.
…In Broward County, where 23 voters are listed as potential noncitizens, elections official Mary Cooney said there’s not enough time to complete the removal process before the Nov. 6 election.
Local election officials are also going to have to figure out how to deal with with non-eligible voters who have voted in past elections, which is a felony.