Non-citizens Voting in Florida?
Purging them from voter rolls is no easy task.

Florida governor Rick Scott


Katrina Trinko

In Florida, state officials are encountering stiff resistance to their efforts to take non-citizens off the voter rolls.

The Sunshine State’s recent history provides a compelling case for why voter rolls must be accurate: In the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush won the state by a mere 537 votes. So last year, when Florida officials realized there was a way to check voter rolls to make sure every voter was a citizen, they jumped at the opportunity.

Because the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles tracks the legal status of those who obtain driver’s licenses — i.e., whether the license holder is a citizen or legally present through a visa or some other method — officials were able to compare this list with the list of registered voters. It wasn’t a foolproof method: Someone could have been a legal alien at the time he obtained a driver’s license and yet could have become a citizen by the time he registered to vote years later. Still, the comparison between the voter-registration records and the driver’s-license records seemed like a reasonable starting point. And it revealed that up to 180,000 Florida voters were potentially not citizens.

But the state wanted a more accurate way of determining voters’ citizenship status. So last year, Florida asked the Department of Homeland Security for access to the department’s citizenship records, which have more current information. Despite repeated requests, the department has yet to give the state access, prompting Florida secretary of state Ken Detzner to write a letter to Secretary Janet Napolitano late last month, asking that DHS cooperate with Florida. 

“Federal law expressly requires your agency to respond to state inquiries seeking to verify or ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of any individual within its jurisdiction for any purpose authorized by law,” Detzner wrote. “Additionally, DHS has recently stated that the SAVE database could be used for voter-registration purposes. . . . Yet after nine months of requests, we have not been granted access to that information or any other available DHS database.”

Meanwhile, Florida had sent letters to 2,600 voters notifying them that the state had reason to believe they were not citizens. If the voters were citizens, they could contact their local elections supervisor and provide proof of their citizenship. If they were not, or did not respond to the letter, it was up to the local elections supervisor to decide whether the person should be left on the voter rolls for now or not.

Detzner spokesman Chris Cate says there have been some instances of  “people who are actually non-citizens contacting the supervisor of elections and saying, ‘Remove me from the rolls.’” In Miami-Dade County, for instance, the supervisor of elections “informed us of 13 people last week who had contacted her office and requested to be removed from the voter rolls.” “The last thing we want to do is remove an eligible voter from the voter rolls,” Cate stresses. “We’re not aware of anyone who’s an eligible voter that has been removed as a result of this process.”