PANAMA CITY – Undeterred by criticism that Florida is targeting minority voters, the state’s top election official today kicked off an effort to win over skeptical election supervisors about a revived plan to remove non-U.S. citizens from the state’s voter rolls.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner met with 15 county election officials from the Panhandle where he and other state election officials tried to reassure them that this year’s effort to identify voters will go more smoothly than the 2012 attempt that drew lawsuits and fierce criticism.
But top Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, are already criticizing the move as a “political ploy” by Gov. Rick Scott to intimidate valid voters.
Wasserman Schultz said the small number of invalid voters found previously did not justify all the time spent launching a new search. She insisted that the real reason Florida says it is going after non-U.S. citizens is to dissuade minority voters, including Hispanics, from voting next year when Scott is up for re-election.
“It is designed to intimidate real voters from going to the polls and casting their ballot,” Wasserman Schultz said.
It was Scott that 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 more than 2,600 registered voters – and 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. Some citizens wound up on 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, including some people who had voted.
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.
During today’s meeting, one state official acknowledged “false starts and missteps.” But some supervisors said this year’s proposal – which includes several steps to re-check the information – is better than the one used last year. Still, questions were raised questions on how often the federal immigration database is updated to see whether or not someone has become a naturalized citizen.
Ion Sancho, the Leon County supervisor of elections, anticipates there will be glitches and problems using the federal database for years to come.
Detzner did take time to answer questions to him that were written down. Several questions focused on whether the state really has a problem with non-citizens voting. Detzner said there is no data on that but it is his job to follow the law and the law states that non-citizens are not eligible to vote.
Sue Carol Elvin, a Bay County resident, received applause from the audience when she told Detzner that she believes Florida is going back to the days of Jim Crow.
Elvin, who is white, said she grew up in the segregated Panhandle.
“My parents didn’t protest, but they always told me things would be better one day in my time,” she said. “It just pains me to see us go back.”