While citizen activists slog through jury excusal records and voter-registration rolls, a former U.S. Justice Department official says the federal government is illegally harassing Florida and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis is demanding answers.
Hans von Spakovsky, a former counsel for civil rights at DOJ, charged that a letter from his former employer ordering Florida to stop removing noncitizen voters "directly abets vote thieves in a key state as [Attorney General Eric] Holder's boss seeks re-election."
Von Spakovsky said the directive from D.C. "goes far beyond Holders previous actions, such as belittling claims of voter fraud and trying to stop voter ID and other reform measures intended to improve the integrity of the election process."
Von Spakovsky defends Florida's cross-referencing its drivers-license database with its voting lists.
"Florida is simply following federal law in making such a database comparison. Section 303(a) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 specifically directs states to coordinate their voter-registration records 'with other agency databases within the state' to ensure they are 'accurate,'" von Spakovsky wrote at National Review Online Wednesday.
Making a false claim of citizenship to register to vote is a felony under federal law, punishable by up to three years in prison.
Holder's critics also say DOJ incorrectly asserted that Florida is violating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it didnt get its review procedure "preapproved by Justice or a federal court.
In fact, only five counties in Florida -- Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe -- are covered by Section 5.
Federal law aside, Section 98.075 of the Florida Election Code authorizes the secretary of state to remove any registrant who is not a United States citizen."
"Fictitious voters who are fraudulently registered are also not mentioned in the Voting Rights Act. Yet under the Justice Department reading of the statute, Florida could not remove Mickey Mouse if it found the Walt Disney character illegally registered at the Magic Kingdom," von Spakovsky points out.
Ferreting out illegal voters has proven difficult for a newly formed coalition of citizen watchdogs, and even local supervisors of elections.
In Polk County, for example, citizen-activist Bill Landes found that he could not get ready access to jury-excusal records of noncitizens, which he would cross-check with voter-registration rolls.
Polk's clerk of court's office told Sunshine State News that a "special request" would have to be made through the department's information technology division to retrieve the records. Officials could not say Wednesday how long that process would take.
The clerk's office said ready retrieval of jury cards has only begun recently.
"We just started last month because we were asked by the supervisor of elections office," a court official said.
Billie Tucker, a Jacksonville tea party leader, said watchdogs in Duval County and elsewhere "are getting different stories" when they inquire about voter rolls.
"There seems to be a lack of coordination, with agencies not talking to each other," Tucker said.
"I don't think there are thousands and and thousands [of noncitizens] on the rolls, but we're just getting started. It's a big web," she added.
Despite pressure from Washington, Tallahassee officials say Florida will continue to remove noncitizens from the state's voter registration records.
"That is exactly what it should do. Individuals who have violated federal law and committed a felony should not stay on the voter rolls," von Spakovsky says.
"They should be removed and then referred to the Justice Department for prosecution -- although that would appear to be a complete waste of time with this administration."
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, jumped into the fray Tuesday, quizzing the Department of Homeland Security about procedures regarding the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program.
Noting that DHS is on record as saying SAVE could be used "for any legal purpose, such as ... voter registration," Bilirakis chided federal officials for failing to cooperate with Florida's request to access SAVE data.
As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Bilirakis requested a response from Alexander Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of DHS.
Meantime, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Rock the Vote announced Wednesday that they would resume voter registration in Florida.
Although both organizations registered voters prior to 2011, the passage of House Bill 1355 established "onerous and impracticable requirements for third-party voter registration," the groups said.
Now, after a federal judge preliminarily blocked the law's provision that completed registration forms must be submitted within 48 hours, LWV and Rock the Vote registrars are heading back onto the streets.
"It's time for our volunteers to work overtime to make up for lost ground," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the LWV Florida operation.
"Florida is an important youth vote state," added Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote. "This decision enables us to get back to the work of encouraging a new generation of engaged voters and future leaders."
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.