THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 10, 2012
David Royse, The News Service of Florida
State elections officials are working with the agency that licenses drivers to identify voters illegally on the rolls because they aren't citizens, and has already flagged 2,600 people who are registered but may be ineligible, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said Wednesday.
Detzner said the Department of State, which includes the Division of Elections, started working more than a year ago with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles on the project. New rules now require anyone getting a new driver license or renewing their license or state ID card to submit documentation proving their status as legal residents of the country.
With that requirement and other elements of the DHSMV system, elections officials can compare databases to find voters that may not be citizens.
The Florida Division of Elections has identified about 2,600 foreigners on the state's voter rolls who appear to be registered illegally. It's still early in the investigation but elections officials say some of the noncitizens may have voted in past elections.
The Department of State's Division of Elections has been taking a closer look at voter rolls over the past year with new help from a database at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. That database includes details about noncitizens and is helping the Elections Division identify people who should not be voting.
Supervisors are contacting suspected noncitizens and giving them 30 days to prove they're a U.S. citizen. If they can't, then they're removed from the rolls.
Voters facing expulsion from voter rolls can ask for a hearing to dispute the finding.
A statement released by Detzner's office said the names of more than 2,600 voters who may not be citizens have been identified through the new process and sent to county elections supervisors for further review. If found to be ineligible, they would then be removed from voter rolls.
"Our partnership with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will be instrumental in our efforts to ensure the accuracy of Florida’s voter rolls, not only this year but in the years to follow," Detzner said. "Florida voters need to know only eligible citizens can cast a ballot and we’re doing everything in our power to ensure that is the case."
The prospect of large numbers of ineligible voters has driven the move to make it harder to register to vote and to cast a ballot – which is a key point of contention between those who say the government's main role in elections is to prevent fraud to ensure their legitimacy, and those who say the government should primarily be concerned with making sure those who are eligible can easily sign up and vote. Voters who cast illegal ballots can be charged with felony fraud.
People who are flagged as possibly ineligible would be notified and have 30 days to show that they are legally allowed to vote, said Chris Cate, Department of State spokesman. "And if they can't prove that they are a U.S. citizen, they will be removed from the rolls."
Cate said it's not clear yet how accurate the first batch of names is, because possibly ineligible voters' names have only recently been sent to county supervisors, and individuals haven't had a chance to challenge their inclusion in the list.
"We certainly want to err on the side of the voter, and not remove anybody who is eligible," said Cate. "So we want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to prove that they are indeed a citizen and prove that they can vote."
But voting rights advocates are skeptical, and the head of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the state was trying to drum up fear of fraud to bolster its defense of a new voting law that makes it harder to register voters and puts some new requirements in place for those who want to change an address during certain times. The changes were made by lawmakers who said they were needed to reduce fraud. The law is now being challenged in federal court.
"Of course we should be able to have confidence in the integrity of the voter rolls, and anyone not eligible should be removed and not permitted to vote," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. "But the people of Florida are smart enough to see this for what it is: a PR offensive to bolster the State’s legal posture in federal court in Tallahassee and Washington."
Simon said the new law is a "radical voter suppression measure" that is based on fraud that "did not exist."
Many of the possible ineligible voters are in Miami-Dade County. Local media there reported this week that the supervisor of elections in that county had been sent about 2,000 names for checking.
State officials say they're doing a secondary check after getting a match and before sending the information to local officials, trying to cross-reference the person with information from other state and federal databases, including immigration databases, that may solidify the information.
Cate said the first search turned up 1,200 matches and the second 1,400, and that he expected there would be more as the program continues. Most are people who are flagged by HSMV as being in the United States for a short time – which means they likely haven't become citizens.