TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida's quest to identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls was started at the direct urging of Gov. Rick Scott, the state's former top elections official said.
Ex-Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who resigned this year, told The Associated Press that Scott asked him whether or not non-U.S. citizens were registered and if those people were voting. Browning explained to the governor during a face-to-face meeting last year that people who register and falsely claim they are citizens can be charged with a crime.
"He says to me - well, people lie," Browning recalled this week. "Yes, people do. But we have always had to err on the side of the voter."
Browning said the conversation prompted state election officials to begin working to identify non-U.S. citizens. The state's initial list - compiled by comparing driver's licenses with voter registration data - showed that as many as 182,000 registered voters were eligible to be in the country but ineligible to vote.
But Browning said he decided against telling local election supervisors right away because he wanted to make sure the information was accurate in order to avoid a "firestorm of press" and criticism. Florida then spent months trying to get access to a federal database that tracks non-U.S. citizens in the country, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not allow it.
"We were not confident enough about the information for this secretary to hang his hat on it," said Browning, who resigned after the Jan. 31 presidential preference primary.