Florida wins use of security data
State checking rolls for noncitizen voters
WASHINGTON – In a victory for Republicans, the federal government has agreed to let Florida use a law enforcement database to challenge people’s right to vote if they are suspected of not being U.S. citizens.
The agreement, made in a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration that was obtained by the Associated Press, grants the state access to a list of resident noncitizens maintained by the Homeland Security Department. The Obama administration had denied Florida’s request for months but relented after a judge ruled in the state’s favor in a related voter-purge matter.
Voting rights groups, while acknowledging that noncitizens have no right to vote, have expressed alarm about using such data for a purpose not originally intended. They also say voter purges less than four months before a presidential election might leave insufficient time to correct mistakes stemming from faulty data or other problems.
Democrats say that the government’s concession is less troubling than some GOP-controlled states’ push to require voters to show photo identification.
But Republicans count it as a victory nonetheless in their broad-based fight over voter eligibility, an issue that could play a big role in the White House race. That’s especially true in pivotal states such as Florida, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina.
Republican officials in several states say they are trying to combat voter fraud. Democrats, however, note that proven cases of voter fraud are rare. They accuse Republicans of cynical efforts to suppress voting by people in lower socioeconomic groups who tend to vote Democratic.
The Homeland Security decision may affect places beyond Florida, because Colorado and other states have asked for similar access to the federal database.
Florida has agreed that it can challenge voters only if the state provides a “unique identifier,” such as an “alien number,” for each person in question. Alien numbers generally are assigned to foreigners living in the country legally, often with visas or other permits such as green cards. Unless they become naturalized citizens, however, they cannot vote.
The agreement will prevent Florida from using only a name and birthdate to seek federal data about a suspected noncitizen on voter rolls.
In a letter Monday, the Homeland Security Department told Florida it was ready to work out details for providing access to the list. The letter was signed by Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Scott’s administration hopes to restart a suspended voter registration purge that was hampered this year by faulty data and bad publicity. The review, using driver’s license information, initially produced 180,000 voters’ names considered worthy of checking. County election supervisors examined 2,625 people on the list. But more than 500 were soon found to be citizens, and the review was halted.
State records show that 86 noncitizens were removed from the voter rolls since April 11, and more than half of them had voted in previous elections.
Voter-rights groups expressed concerns about Florida’s efforts.
“No matter what database Florida has access to, purging voters from the rolls using faulty criteria on the eve of an election could prevent thousands of eligible voters from exercising their rights,” said Jonathan Brater, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. “Florida must use a more transparent and accurate process and must leave enough time for voters targeted for removal to be notified and correct errors,” he said.
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