Fla. voter-roll screening yields few non-citizens

September 12, 2012 - 10:34 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's attempt to screen voter rolls for non-U.S. citizens is yielding a smaller number than state officials had anticipated.

The Florida Department of State announced Wednesday that it used a federal immigration database to verify 207 voters are not citizens. Earlier this year, state officials under Republican Gov. Rick Scott had said they suspected more than 2,600 voters were ineligible and had asked election supervisors to purge those on the list.

State officials, however, said the screening process was still a success because it yielded some ineligible voters.

Florida's announcement came the same day that it reached an agreement with voting groups that had challenged the purge, alleging it was discriminatory because they said it mostly targeted Hispanics. The groups that work with immigrants, Haitian-Americans and Puerto Ricans had filed suit in Miami and they are dropping most of their claims

"This settlement represents a historic milestone for voting rights in Florida," said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. "It will ensure that naturalized citizens, the majority of whom are Latino, black and Asian, have the same opportunities as all Americans to participate in our political process and exercise the most fundamental right in our democracy — the right to vote."

Under the agreement, the state will instruct elections supervisors to contact the remaining 2,400 voters who'd come under scrutiny and tell them they're still eligible to cast ballots.

Some eligible voters had been removed from voter rolls because they didn't respond to certified mail after the state originally distributed the list of potential non-citizens to elections supervisors.

Also, Secretary of State Ken Detzner will instruct elections supervisors to restore any voters who were removed if it can't be confirmed that they aren't citizens; send a letter to everyone who was previously told they may not be eligible to vote and inform them that they are still registered, unless it's confirmed that they aren't citizens; not to conclude that the presence of a name on the list determines voter ineligibility; and not to force anyone on the list to use a provisional ballot.

The list has become the subject of several lawsuits, including one by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Scott, who was elected in 2010, initiated a push last year to have Florida election officials look for non-U.S. citizens on the voter rolls. That resulted in the state comparing driver's license information with voter registration data to come up with more than 180,000 people suspected of being ineligible to vote.

Then in April, the state distributed to county election supervisors a smaller list of more than 2,600 names that state officials said had been reviewed further. The supervisors have final say over whether to remove a voter from the rolls.

Many county election officials, however, began raising questions about the accuracy of the list when more than 500 voters turned out to be citizens. Most supervisors halted any further work on the state list although two counties — Collier and Lee — did not suspend work on the list and removed voters from the rolls.

The state subsequently reached an agreement with the federal government to check the list against an immigration database.