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Nearly 2,700 potential non-citizen voters are on Florida's rolls

Nearly 2,700 potential non-U.S. citizens are registered to vote in Florida and some could have been unlawfully casting ballots for years, according to a Miami Herald-CBS4 analysis of elections data.

The bulk of the potential non-citizen voters are in Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, where the elections supervisor is combing through a list of nearly 2,000 names and contacting them.

An analysis of a partial list of 350 names showed that about 104 have cast ballots going as far back as 1996.

Even if voters are on the list, it doesn’t mean they’re not eligible to cast a ballot.

Consider the case of Miami’s Maria Ginorio, a 64-year-old from Cuba, who said she became a U.S. citizen in August 2009. She said she was angered by a letter she received asking her to go to the elections office to document her status. Ginorio, who said she typically votes by absentee ballot, is ill and homebound.

"I'm not going to do anything about this,'' Ginorio said. "I can't. I guess I won't vote anymore. I say this with pain in my heart, because voting is my right as a citizen.''

Citizens like Ginorio were flagged as potential ineligible voter safter the state’s Division of Elections compared its database with a database maintained by Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which records whether a new driver is a U.S. citizen when he or she gets a license.

As a result,some citizens could appear to be non citizens now because the DHSMV computer system doesn’t automatically update when someone becomes a citizen, said Chris Cate, a spokesman with the Florida Division of Elections.

“We’re not just looking at the matches from Highway Safety,” Cate said. “We’re doing a secondary assessment here before we send the names to supervisors of elections. You have to consider that a person’s last contact with highway safety can be more than four years ago. Someone could have become a citizen in that time. So you can’t presume someone’s not an eligible voter.”

Cate said it’s not surprising that the bulk of potential non-citizen voters are in Miami-Dade. With 1.2 million active registered voters, it’s Florida’s most-populous county and it has the largest immigrant population in the state.

Christina White, a deputy Miami-Dade elections supervisor, said the county is sending out letters to all potential non voters within 30 days and is asking them to prove citizenship.

The state’s effort to clean the voter rolls are unfolding in a presidential election year in which perceptions of voting problems and potential fraud break down along partisan lines — especially after the Republican-led Legislature last year cracked down on voting registration groups and early voting on the Sunday before Election Day.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, sponsored the election law and said he feels “validated” by the state’s actions in keeping its voter rolls clean.

“We need to protect the integrity of the system and ensure that people who aren’t eligible to vote aren’t casting ballots,” Baxley said. “The elections supervisors are going to send any names they find suspicious to the state attorneys, but the prosecutors have bigger fish to fry than this. So the only way to deal with this problem is preventative.”

But University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith, a critics of Baxley’s law, said the state purges could block eligible voters from casting ballots, thereby making the cure worse than the problem.
Smith noted that 3,000 potential non-citizen voters is a small number compared to the state’s 12 million total voters.

“This attests to the fact that there’s very little voter-registration fraud,” Smith said. “This purging can be a real problem.”

To be eligible to cast a ballot in Florida, a voter must be a state resident and a U.S. citizen with no felony record. Those who have been convicted of felonies can cast ballots if their rights have been restored by the state.

It’s a third-degree felony to commit voter fraud in Florida.

Neither the state nor the county’s election office would release all of the suspected names, in part because the list contains personal data such as Social Security and driver-license numbers that are not public record.

Of the partial Miami-Dade list given to the Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times and CBS 4, less than a third of the potential non citizens had voted, going as far back as 1996. About 39 of them are Democrats, 39 Republicans and 26 are independent voters.

About 13 of the voters cast ballots in the disputed 2000 presidential election, which was decided by 537 votes.

The state began unearthing potential non-citizen voters when the highway safety agency began coordinating with the elections division.

The post-9/11 federal REAL ID Law, which took effect in Florida in 2010, requires proof of U.S. Citizenship to obtain or renew a driver’s license.At first, the state unearthed 1,251 voters. The number now stands at 2,676. The list is expected to grow.

"Someone’s ability to vote is sacrosanct," said Julie Jones, executive director of the highway safety agency. "We’re all working together to make sure the process is valid, but our information is only as good as the last time somebody visited our office."

Jones said that because a driver’s license in Florida is valid for eight years, a non-citizen could have gotten a license prior to 2010 and subsequently become a citizen, but her agency would have no way of knowing.

Others are in Florida on work visas or student visas, Jones said. They can get temporary driver’s licenses in Florida but they can’t vote.

"I don’t think we’ll ever have a completely error-proof database," said Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark. "There are just so many variables."

Pinellas got a list of 36 names a couple of weeks ago. So far, Clark said, two people have provided proof of citizenship, two more say they will provide proof and one person was removed from the rolls for confirming their status as a non-citizen. Thirty one others have not yet been reached.

Anyone whose citizenship is questioned has at least 30 days to provide proof under state law.

"We don’t just take them off the rolls," Clark said. "We send them a certified letter and ask for proof of citizenship."

Pasco County received 13 names. Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said the first two names he checked were able to prove their citizenship. They live in Ohio and Massachusetts, but vote in Florida.

"I’m just concerned about the end result," Corley said. "I don’t want to be kicking people off the rolls who are citizens."

The whole process, though, spooks voters like Aventura’s Maria Bustamente, 63. She sounded alarmed at having her name appear in a list of potential non-citizens -- but noted that while she has an ID card, she does not have a driver's license.

“Yes,” she said with surprise, “I’m an American citizen.”

Comments

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Stephanie Kienzle

I'm glad to see that the Elections Commission is FINALLY purging their voter rolls. This will help toward restoring the integrity of our elections. Excellent!

Garl

Shame on Professor Smith. 3,000 votes not worth worrying about? I imagine he was at the forefront complaining about the 537 votes back in 2000...

John Lynn

Prosecute a few of them.

Liberty27

Article I in the Constitution describes the powers of congress. It is Section I that I am concerned about. Governor Rick Scott of Florida continues to cross over from his Executive Branch to the Judicial Branch. He continues to add on additional punishment after the contract of due process has been handed down by a court of law, served and completed by an individual.

Our country is changing at such a rapid pace and not for the better.
We talk of voter fraud this election year but what about the nearly one million tax paying citizens who have completed their contracts handed down to them by a court of law by completing due process and are still being denied the right to vote in Florida? Florida has some of the harshest disenfranchisement laws for voters in the country. The other 47 states in our country restore these rights after completion of sentence. Gov Scott and Pam Bondi have extended this disenfranchisement to last a life time for most of these men and women. Only 78 had their rights restored last year by the Florida Executive Board of Clemency. Their agenda is not to help these men and women, who served their time, get reestablished back into their communities. They must continue to struggle as second class citizens along with their families’ right along side of them.

I have always loved history. It was always my favorite subject in high
school and college. I have always felt that if we failed to learn from the lessons that history teaches us we are bound to repeat the same mistakes. Our founding fathers established a government that they wanted to stand the test of time. By forming our Constitution grounded on moral Christian truths and values of the ages was perfect. They knew that these truths were constant and will never change. Our constitution is being eroded and watered down by today's moral decay. Some politicians down through the centuries have always bent to the popular demands of the people of their day. We have a silent majority in this country that I believe can turn this around.

I am passionate about civil rights. I served to help defend those rights in the military when my country put out the call for service. I see our freedoms and liberties that are supposed to be protected by our constitution not being preserved. Many are saying that this document is outdated and should be revised or even replaced. If we are not diligent in protecting these freedoms they can be taken away from us. Freedom is not free but comes with a price. My website www.aarcr.org is meant to open up a dialogue about what is currently happening in our country. Every year the number of Americans that are being disenfranchised as American citizens is increasing. We are not addressing the root problems of this rise but only putting people away for awhile as a fix all and not trying to help them get reestablished after they have paid their debt to society. The problem for these men and women started in the family but we can help to reeducate and rehabilitate these individuals at a far lower cost and help to give them a new lease on life. Our country spent over $74 billion dollars last year in growing our correctional system. This system is broke. There is a better way. It is sad to say that we were not all created equal in how we were raised as a child. A good many were brought up in broken homes and dysfunctional families and had to fend for themselves because the parent was either to busy working to pay the bills or just did not care. There is something terribly wrong with this. There is a better way. Put them away and throw away the key I have heard some say. When this hits closer to home I do not believe they will be feeling this way. This is what I believe to be true:

Justice without serving a function is oppression.
Punishment without serving a purpose is persecution.

Our justice system in this country is broke and in need of major repairs. Our country has become addicted to incarceration. This has become the fix all for everything. Our United States has the highest incarceration numbers in the world. As of 2011 we had 2.3 million men and women behind bars according to the International Center for Prison Studies. In comparison China has four times our population and is a distant second with 1.6 million people behind bars and we lecture them on human rights. Our next generation has some urgent decisions to make. Do we continue down this road of statues quo or do we get back to the basics of what our constitution represents?

The Brave men and women who went before us dedicated their lives that our nation remains free from tyranny and continue to be established as a government of the people, by the people and for the people; that the civil rights and civil liberties of its citizens be protected under our nation’s constitution. These decisions will establish the future legacy of our great nation. Do you want to part of the solution or do you want to just sit back and complain about the results of a failing system? Contact your congressman and demand a change. If they do not listen fire them. Together we can restore democracy and civil rights for all Americans by reestablishing a government of the people, by the people and for the people in that these rights continue to be protected in spite of race, color, gender or previous condition of penal servitude. Every human being deserves a second chance, a fair chance at living free from persecution and oppression. You may be just one voice but together we are strong; undivided and united we will be heard.
www.aarcr.org

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