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Florida Moves Forward With Voter Purge After Feds Grant Access To Database

Florida election officials finally have access to a federal immigration database it plans to use to screen voters. The Department of State announced on Thursday plans to re-start efforts to purge Florida’s voter rolls of ineligible voters.

State elections officials initially identified more than 180,000 people it said were ineligible to vote. But local supervisors of elections said the information they received on those allegedly ineligible voters was spotty at best after more than 500 people on it turned out to be legally registered. Department of State spokesman Chris Cate says the federal government’s SAVE immigration database will allow the state to generate a new list of names that’s much more accurate:­

“We’re going to be working promptly and thoroughly. The reality is that this is something that will never be finished.  A non-citizen can always get on the roles if they’re willing to commit a felony and attest that they are a citizen. Once we get through the names we’ve identified we’ll continue to seek out names of non-citizens and make sure they are not diluting the ballot of eligible Florida voters.” 

Florida officials had sought access to the data base for months. The goal has been to see if some registered voters were non-U.S. citizens and ineligible to vote. In order to check that, the state will have to input specific voter information, such as alien registration numbers. The state’s purge efforts also sparked lawsuits from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. Spokesman Baylor Johnson says despite the state getting access to the database, his organization believes Florida’s purge is illegal.

“It’s not certain to us that this database is going to be that much more useful to the state’s purposes. But that’s not even the point about when it comes to why this is a violation of federal law. The fact is, they haven’t gotten pre-clearance under the voting rights act, and by continuing with this purge they are in violation of federal law."

The voting rights act requires five counties to get federal approval before changes in elections process can go through. But whether the state can institute its purge in the rest of counties while it awaits that approval is unclear. The ACLU is also concerned about purging the rolls 90 days before an election but the state says it believes there will be time for people to appeal their removals if they choose.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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