By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Election officials in Florida have begun renewing efforts to purge alleged non-citizen voters from its voter rolls.
Last year, the state’s list of suspected non-citizen voters, which was then handed down to local election supervisors, was rife with errors. Many suspected non-citizens were actually able to prove they were citizens, throwing much of the reliability of the state’s list into question. Reports also surfaced that the list included a disproportionate number of Hispanics and other minority voters.
After many problems with the state’s voter purge, which was initiated by Gov. Rick Scott, local election officials eventually put a stop to it. A hispanic voting rights group also eventually sued the state and the purge was all but dead right before the presidential election last year.
However, this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act that required some states and individual counties, which included five in Florida, be subject to scrutiny from the federal government when they create new voting laws. This move basically opened the door for state officials to take another stab at purging the rolls– and according to The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald, they have already started.
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 non-citizens 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.
Scott and others have said a renewed voter purge would be more reliable this time because Florida officials now have access to a national immigration database called SAVE. The database, Detzner has argued in the past, would allow the state to have a more reliable list to work with. The database was obtained by the state after a long fight with the federal government.
However, some of the local election officials who stopped the purge before don’t feel much better about the upcoming new list.
According to the Times/Herald:
Okaloosa County election supervisor Paul Lux said the state’s questionable data damaged relations between the state and counties last year.
“We said then, ‘If you can’t give us good data, why should we kill ourselves vetting it?’ ” Lux said.
Relations have improved, but Lux said he’s not hopeful that the SAVE database will be much better.
“If the federal government is as good at collecting data as they are with doing other things, then I’ve got to wonder about the quality of this data,” Lux said. “If we get the information sooner, we can get started and have plenty of time to do our own due diligence.”
This renewed voter purge comes as Scott ramps up his re-election efforts for 2014. The last was conducted weeks before a presidential election.