A 25-year-old immigrant with a college degree and a job might make a good resident but he better not try to vote in Florida. State officials are cracking down on voter fraud by non-citizens, and the efforts recently got a boost from the suddenly cooperative Department of Homeland Security.
In a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Florida was finally granted access to a key database that would give it the accurate information it needs to remove non-citizens from voter rolls. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner's spokesman Chris Cate said the process of identifying and removing ineligible voters should begin "very soon." He said the two sides are working on a memorandum agreement to serve as a model for other states that also want to prevent non-citizens from voting.
For months the Department of Homeland Security refused to hand over its Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, a collection of citizenship information that is more up-to-date than Florida driver's license records.
After Detzner sued for access to the database, the Department of Justice claimed the action would violate the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 because the state would be removing voters within 90 days of an election. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle rebuffed the DOJ's attempt, saying nothing inhibits the state from identifying non-citizens at any time.
"The court made a common-sense decision consistent with what I've been saying all along, that irreparable harm will result if non-citizens are allowed to vote," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. "We know from just a small sample that an alarming number of non-citizens are on the voter rolls and many of them have illegally voted in past elections."
The delayed access to SAVE caused many county supervisors of elections in the state to stop the purge until they had information more reliable than Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles records. Those records turned up 180,000 non-citizens, but the information was only as good as the resident's most recent interaction with the department.
Cate said access to the SAVE database will have long-term implications. "We have a year-round obligation to make sure the voter rolls are accurate," he said. "We don't view this as an effort for just one election."
A statewide poll found that 60 percent of Florida voters favor the registration roll-cleaning while 35 percent are opposed. Democrats say the action amounts to voter suppression that would discourage turnout, and a coalition of civil rights groups filed suit claiming the purge discriminates against minorities.
Government lawyers have yet to produce an example of a legitimate voter being removed from the rolls. But if it does happen, any person can cast a provisional ballot on Election Day and it will be counted as soon as citizenship is verified.
The Florida controversy has received national attention because it takes further what other Republican-led state governments have done with various voter ID laws. And success may embolden other states to pursue similar action. Already, Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina have asked the Department of Homeland Security for access to the SAVE database.