Election officials hope to access federal database by week’s end, but issue could be moot

Jul 16, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on July 16, 2012:

Election officials hope to access federal database by week’s end, but issue could be moot

By James Call


State-level elections officials hope to have access by the end of the week to a federal database to check the names of suspected noncitizens on its voter rolls. But a Florida elections expert said it is unclear whether the database will help Florida purge noncitizens this year. 

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner reached agreement over the weekend with U.S. Department of Homeland Security allowing the state to use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database. SOS spokesman Chris Cate said Monday that after a training session the office will begin validating a list of suspected noncitizens who are registered to vote.

“It’s (SAVE database) a web-based program,” Cate said. “Once we have done our checks we will provide that information to the local supervisors of elections and they will reach out to those individuals.”

To check a register voter’s citizenship with the SAVE database Florida will need to provide a unique identifier, such as an alien number or a number on a Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship. Officials don’t collect those numbers when people register to vote and records provided to elections officials by the state  Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles have been shown to be filled with errors.

“So, it is quite questionable how newly acquired access to the federal Save database will help ferret out potential noncitizens, as most citizens on the Florida voter rolls do not have a ‘unique identifier’ that is included in the federal database,” Daniel Smith wrote on his website Election Smith. Smith is a University of Florida political science professor.

County supervisors of elections have the sole authority to remove a name from the voter rolls. Earlier this year the state sent a list of nearly 2,700 to the supervisors for verification. Errors on the list quickly ignited protests.  It contained the names of 140 noncitizens but also listed nearly 500 legal voters, including a Broward resident who was born in the United States and is a Battle of the Bulge veteran.   

Groups such as the League of Women Voters went to court to stop the purge. Election supervisors said they lacked confidence in the accuracy of the state’s list and the Department of Justice and Florida filed lawsuits against each other. Now, Homeland Security is providing Florida with access to a massive database of legal residents who are not U.S. citizens in order to verify who is allowed to vote. 

“We’ll see,” said Ion Sancho, the Leon County Supervisor of Elections. “We’ll see what the quality of the information is (coming from the state); we’ll see if it gives us comfort and use deliberate caution so as not to disenfranchise anyone.”

Anyone flagged as a potential noncitizen would have 30 days to respond to their local elections supervisor office. A “commitment to cooperate” between the state of Florida and Homeland Security to verify citizenship of Florida voters will have no effect on the August primary, which is fewer than 30 days away.

View the original article here:  http://www.thefloridacurrent.com/article.cfm?id=28499441