THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 12, 2012
Michael Peltier and David Royse, The News Service of Florida
Florida on Monday sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to gain access to a federal database in the state’s ongoing effort to purge ineligible voters from its statewide voter registration rolls.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner filed the request for declaratory judgment in an effort to force the federal agency to share citizenship information in what has been an ongoing feud between the Republican-controlled state and the Obama administration over efforts to remove those who are ineligible from the list of more than 11 million registered voters.
Detzner said the state has been trying for nearly a year to gain access to DHS’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE) database, which tracks citizenship and alien status.
"We can’t let the federal government delay our efforts to uphold the integrity of Florida elections any longer," Detzner said in a statement. "We’ve filed a lawsuit to ensure the law is carried out and we are able to meet our obligation to keep the voter rolls accurate and current."
The suit, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, says the state has the statutory right to access the database.
"Defendants’ unwarranted delay and recalcitrance in fulfilling its statutory obligation to provide SAVE Program access has unjustifiably interfered with FDOS’s ability to fulfill its own statutory obligation to protect the integrity of elections and maintain current and accurate voter registration rolls," the complaint reads. "Immediate access is, therefore, required to ensure that the SAVE Program operates as intended…"
It is the latest turn in a dust up over recent Republican-backed efforts to review the legal status of Florida voters in preparation for the 2012 election cycle. The Department of Justice has warned Florida officials that the exercise may violate federal election laws.
Gov. Rick Scott has been pushing the effort.
"My job is to enforce the laws of Florida," Scott said on Fox News on Monday. "I'm the governor of Florida. That is what I got elected to do. I expect every other elected official to do their job and I expect they will."
The Division of Elections earlier this year sent a list of about 2,600 names of potentially illegal voters to local supervisors of elections, using what it has acknowledged was an imperfect list put together from a state Highway Safety database of people who had a certain degree of likelihood to be in the country illegally. Detzner said the agency would have liked to have sent a more reliable list but couldn't get access to the federal database. Local officials, he stressed, had the ultimate decision on whether to purge those voters who didn't respond to a letter questioning their status.
But in the last few days, the Division of Elections released a list of the names of 86 voters it says have been removed by local supervisors because they were non-citizens between April 11 and June 8. About half of them are listed as having voted.
That, backers of the purge effort say, proves the need for the move, because it shows that some non-citizens have indeed registered and cast votes.
Opponents of the purge have criticized it as too broad-brushed, and note that 86 voters would only be about one-third of one percent of all those on the list sent to supervisors.
It's also not clear how many of the 86 voters were among the 2,600 names that have been sent to local supervisors of elections for possible removal.
Local press reports have said some of the voters who have been removed in recent weeks were taken off voter rolls after they voluntarily came forward or were sought out by local officials not using the list sent to them by the state. For example, the Palm Beach Post reported that the one purged voter from Palm Beach County who was removed, Anabel Gomez, had to have come to the local supervisors and asked to be removed, because the local supervisor, Democrat Susan Bucher, never sent out any letters seeking to remove voters identified by the state.
It is a felony for non-citizens to register to vote, and at least some of those removed are likely to face charges if local prosecutors pursue them.
Of the 86 registered voters the state said local supervisors had removed in the last couple months, more than half – 44 of them – were in Lee County. No other county came close – Miami-Dade was next with 15 – suggesting the Lee County Supervisor of Elections office was much more aggressive during the period in culling the voter rolls of ineligible voters.
While the names on the list do suggest that many of those purged are Hispanic, many of them have names that suggest they're not, from Ardalan Heshmat in Alachua County to Lyudmyla Oleynikova, Stacey Lewis and Margaret White in Lee County.