Thousands of foreign citizens – particularly in South Florida -- might be registered to vote in Florida and could have unlawfully cast ballots in previous elections.
The potential problem is largest in Florida's largest county: Miami-Dade, where the elections supervisor is examining 2,000 potentially unlawful voters, CBS4 News reported. Broward is examining 260 suspected foreign voters. One suspected non-citizen voter has been registered for about 40 years, CBS4 found.
It's unclear how many -- if any -- have cast ballots and when.Election supervisors in Miami-Dade and the state’s 66 other counties are contacting these voters and asking them to prove their citizenship within 30 days.
“If we find out after the fact that you are actually a non-citizen, and you are registered to vote, then we would report you to the State Attorney's office," Christina White, Miami-Dade’s deputy supervisor of elections, told CBS4.
"If you are not [a citizen] and you check the box on the registration form that says that you are [a citizen],” White said, “we are required to register you to vote, because you are taking that under oath."
With few exceptions, only U.S. citizens who are lawful Florida residents without felony records are eligible to vote in the state. A voter who unlawfully casts a ballot could be charged with voter fraud, a third-degree felony, punishable by a maximum five-year prison sentence and $5,000 fine.
Over the past year, the state's Division of Elections has begun identifying potential foreigners on the rolls in coordination with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said division of elections spokesman Chris Cate. He said the state has forwarded the names to county election supervisors who are in charge of the rolls.
"There will be more names," Cate said.
The discovery of potentially unlawful voters is sure to fuel the partisan debate over voter fraud and voting rights. With 1.2 million registered voters in Miami-Dade, 2,000 potential non-voters may not seem like a big number -- however it's more than enough to swing a close election in a state like Florida, where the 2000 presidential election was decided by 537 votes in favor of George W. Bush.
"It's very important that we ensure that the voter rolls are accurate and that only people who are eligible are able to vote," White said.