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Politics

Florida Scanning Driver's License Lists for Possible Ineligible Voters

May 10, 2012 - 6:00pm

More than one of every 100 registered voters in Florida, many in predominately Democratic Miami-Dade County, are being scrutinized for their citizenship and eligibility to cast a ballot.

The review is part of an ongoing operation the Division of Elections has undertaken with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles that is checking the citizenship of 180,000 registered voters.

Already county elections supervisors within the past month have been directed to personally check the status of 2,600 registered voters -- nearly 2,000 in Miami-Dade, nearly 300 more in neighboring Broward County.

Its definitely a big job, but its our job to make the rolls as accurate as possible, said state elections spokesman Chris Cate on Friday.

There are more than 11 million people registered to vote in Florida.

The two state agencies have been checking the eligibility of voters for more than a year by comparing databases to check on residency status updates.

Cate noted that many of the 180,000 may have become United States citizens since receiving a license.

Highway Safety records individuals' citizenship status at the time they get a license, but doesnt automatically update the information the moment a person earns citizenship.

If your last interaction was with Highway Safety five years ago, you would be within that 180,000, Cate said. But you could have become a citizen in that time, you would have the right to vote and be completely fine.

Under the 2010 Real ID Act, motorists must also provide documents on their residency status upon receiving or updating their drivers license or state identification cards. Noncitizens legally in the country may receive a license.

County supervisors are directed to contact those flagged as suspected noncitizens by the initial state review. County elections officials have 30 days to verify or disprove an individuals citizenship.

Those found to not be citizens are removed from the voter rolls.

Anyone removed could face a third-degree felony charge for registering to vote, as each individual must check a box declaring he or she is a U.S. citizen on the form.

It is a further felony to illegally vote in Florida.

So far, state elections officials havent heard of anyone being removed through this process.

Cate said the first 1,200 names were sent to the county elections officials in early April, meaning the first confirmation of illegal voters should be made soon.

Baylor Johnson, spokesperson for the ACLU of Florida, called the method being used to check the names as unreliable, noting that among the list is a U.S. service member from Pensacola now serving overseas.

In the states zeal to justify a political voter suppression agenda, they have already forced a citizen soldier defending our country to have to prove that shes an American citizen, Johnson responded in an email. In the coming days as more Floridians find their citizenship called into question by a flawed list, who knows who else will be found?

Supervisors of elections have a duty to ensure that elections are secure, but they also have an obligation to prevent the tragedy of citizens who are registered to vote from being denied their voice in our democracy by a clerical error. We hope that elections supervisors realize that if they rely on this faulty purge list alone, they wont be protecting democracy in Florida, theyll be damaging it.

The Associated Press also reported that among the first list of names sent to elections supervisors was a Hillsborough County man who first registered to vote in 1959.

The state elections partnership with Highway Safety is a little more than a year old.

Elections officials have been working for years with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Department of Corrections and Department of Health to purge voters from their lists due to death or imprisonment.

Cate said the state has been unable to team with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to compare databases.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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