Elections chief hopes new voting roll check is more credible

Published: Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 6:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 6:56 p.m.

Florida officials are revisiting the idea of a voter purge to remove noncitizens from the state's voter rolls, although a similar effort last year was met with fierce opposition.

Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter cautiously expects this new purge attempt to yield more results than last year's, although the state is still developing its procedures.

Last year, state officials tried to identify voters who were ineligible due to their citizenship status using the state Department of Motor Vehicles' driver's license data. Initially, they said there was a list of around 182,000 ineligible voters, although that figure eventually fell below 200.

Opponents of the 2012 purge argued it targeted minority voters, especially Hispanics, and the state's efforts were met with legal challenges as well.

Now, though, the state is assessing and developing procedures to determine if voters are ineligible to vote due to their U.S. citizenship status, including using the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program, a federal citizenship database also known as SAVE, as a source of information.

State Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews sent a letter to the state's election supervisors earlier this month announcing plans to develop new methods for ensuring the integrity of its voter rolls, although she wrote that implementing these measures would take time.

"This is all part of our ongoing and continuing efforts to identify potentially ineligible registered voters, regardless of the basis for ineligibility, and to assist you with your duty to notify and remove ineligible voters as required under federal and state laws," she wrote.

Carpenter said the details of how that will work are uncertain.

"My understanding is that, you know, this time around they're going to have access to more records that will help them better vet the list that they have," she said.

Whereas last time the state was only using driver's license information, the next time it is expected to have additional data from SAVE. Carpenter expects it should be able to provide election supervisors with more credible lists for their review as a result.

Only using driver's licenses to confirm someone's noncitizen status was a concern for Carpenter, who wants to ensure the county's voter rolls are clear of ineligible voters while simultaneously preventing anyone's voting status from being wrongly revoked.

"It was troubling because the way that it worked was if someone wasn't a citizen when they went to get their driver's license, they were assumed not to be a citizen even though they could have gone through naturalization since then," she said. "We want to make certain, like I said, that our rolls are clean, but we want to make sure that everyone who's eligible to be registered and vote has that right and that access."

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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