Florida election chief wants support for voter purge

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's top election official, stung by criticism that the state previously relied on flawed data, wants to win support from skeptical election supervisors about a coming effort to remove non-U.S. citizens from the state's voter rolls.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced Wednesday that he will hold five meetings with county election officials in October on what he's calling a "Project Integrity Tour."

Some critics have charged that Florida's voter purge is an effort by Republicans to intimidate naturalized citizens who are likely minorities. But Detzner made it clear in a statement that Florida has no plans to back away from its already announced plans to identify potential non-U.S. citizens and remove them.

This time around, though, state officials want to discuss the process they will use prior to distributing any lists of potentially ineligible voters to county officials. County election supervisors are the only ones with power to remove a voter.

"We can ensure the continued integrity of our voter rolls while protecting the voting rights of eligible voters from those who may cast an illegal vote," Detzner said. "Our elections process must uphold the integrity of local voter rolls."

Republican Gov. Rick Scott first pushed to have the state look for non-U.S. citizens on the rolls. The state initially compared a list of driver's licenses with voter registration data and came up with a list of 180,000 voters suspected of not being citizens.

That list was pared back to a much smaller one — of more than 2,600 registered voters — that was sent to county election officials last year. Many election supervisors, however, did not wind up removing anyone after questions arose about the law and the accuracy of the list.

Florida then reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to screen names on a federal immigration database. That yielded a list of nearly 200 names. Some of those on that list included voters who admitted that they are not citizens.

But the state was ordered to halt its search for non-U.S. citizens because of a lawsuit filed by voting rights groups. After a key U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer Detzner said the state would resume its effort to find non-U.S. citizens. State officials, however, have yet to give county officials a new list.

Ion Sancho, the Leon County elections supervisor, credited state officials for seeking the input of local officials before resuming its efforts. But he said supervisors would still give the state an earful because there remains scant evidence of widespread voter fraud conducted by non-U.S. citizens.

"There's far more electoral fraud conducted by politicians and candidates than voters," Sancho said.

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said local officials want documentation that clearly shows that someone identified by the state is a non-U.S. citizen and ineligible to vote.

"Everyone agrees that only eligible persons should be on the voter rolls and any audit needs to ensure that it's accurate and apolitical," Corley said.

Detzner's announcement came a day after several voting rights groups criticized the state's plan to resume its effort to find non-U.S. citizens.

"Voting is a right. Once a person is eligible to vote, that right should not have to be earned and re-earned, over and over again," said Florida Immigrant Coalition Executive Director Maria Rodriguez. "Moreover, a citizen is a citizen, and all should have equal access to their right to vote."

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