THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, July 16, 2012
Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
Secretary of State Ken Detzner said Saturday that the state has received access to a federal database that could allow it to move forward with a voter purge aimed at removing suspected non-citizens from the rolls.
The announcement is likely to reignite a battle over the initiative, which the state says will sweep ineligible voters off the rolls but critics charge could inadvertently cost some citizens their right to vote.
"I am very pleased that the federal government has committed to giving us the access necessary to identify noncitizens on the voter rolls and make sure these ineligible voters cannot cast a ballot," Detzner said in a statement released Saturday. "Florida voters are counting on their state and federal governments to cooperate in a way that ensures elections are fair, beginning with ensuring the voter rolls are current and accurate."
Detzner almost immediately sent a letter to elections supervisors, many of whom have so far resisted the purge, suggesting that access to the federal database would allow the program to resume. The state had stopped sending names beyond a random sample to the supervisors after many complained it was riddled with inaccuracies.
In the letter, Detzner says the state and the federal government plan to sign an agreement allowing the state use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE, database "very soon."
"The first set of names we intend to review using the SAVE database will be the names provided to supervisors this past April," Detzner wrote. "The results will be provided to you for additional actions in accordance with applicable laws."
Detzner also reiterated the state's argument that the initial sample turned up examples of noncitizens who were registered to vote, some of whom had cast ballots.
"These ineligible voters must be removed to ensure the integrity of our elections," Detzner said.
A federal court in June rejected a request by the U.S. Department of Justice to bar the state from taking any more steps toward carrying out its purge program, saying that concerns that eligible voters could be removed from the list were significant.
"But having an ineligible voter on the list is not a solution," U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle said.
At the same time, Hinkle said the ruling was driven in part by assurances from the state that it would not forward any more names to county elections supervisors based on a list of potentially ineligible voters that even the state concedes is inaccurate. That list is drawn from driver's license and voter-registration records.
Detzner said in his letter that the state-generated list "should be considered obsolete."
Overall, Hinkle's ruling that the state could pursue the removal of non-citizens within 90 days of a federal election seemed to pave the way for some version of the scrubbing to continue, especially if the state gained access to SAVE and could prove the effort isn't discriminatory.
The state and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have battled over the SAVE database for months, with the state saying it has the right to access the list and DHS saying Florida hasn't provided all the necessary information to use it. The state eventually sued the department for access to SAVE.
Florida officials said in recent weeks it now has sent the information the federal agency was looking for, apparently clearing the way for Saturday's announcement.