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While Florida halts SAVE non-citizen voter purge, other states proceed ahead

Think the use of SAVE to search for non-citizen voters is dead? Perhaps in Florida, but not elsewhere.

While Florida recently scrapped using SAVE to search for non-citizen voters this year, Colorado and Maricopa County, Arizona continue to use that federal data to check voter registration eligibility -- and more states appear poised to join that list.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced last week that he would delay his second round of searching for non-citizen voters due to changes underway to the federal SAVE website that won’t be done before the 2014 election.

Detzner’s purge shortly before the presidential election in 2012 was criticized by election supervisors who said it was sloppy, rife with errors and poorly timed. The state started with a list of 180,000 potential noncitizens and later pared it to about 2,600 and then to 198. In the end, about 85 were removed.

In 2013, Detzner went on a statewide tour to visit county election officials and promise a much more effective process using the SAVE data. He dubbed the second round “Project Integrity.”

But in March, Detzner said as a result of DHS making changes to the SAVE website he had decided to delay the project. DHS finished the first phase of the website changes in February and is planning for the next phase -- but the website continues to remain operational. Unrelated to SAVE, this week a federal appeals court ruled that the 2012 purge was illegal because it was done too close to election day.

The Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler continues to use SAVE despite the website changes.  

Colorado signed an agreement to access SAVE in August 2012 and started using it for voter registration purposes shortly thereafter. A spokesman for the Secretary of State, Andrew Cole, told us in an email that their office hasn’t had any issues with the SAVE website “and do not plan on halting our checks as a result of the changes to the website.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many non-citizens have been removed from Colorado’s voter rolls as a result of SAVE. Since 2008, Colorado has removed 622 noncitizens from the voter rolls -- but that includes a few years before the state started using SAVE for that purpose, Gessler spokesman Richard Coolidge said. At least 55 voters identified through SAVE searches sent letters back to the state asking that they be removed from the voter rolls. (Gessler has faced heat for the purge.)

In 2005, Maricopa County in Arizona became the first such agency to access SAVE for voter registration purposes, DHS previously told PolitiFact.

“We have not halted the use of the SAVE program and the DHS website continually goes through updates but it has never affected our ability to check citizenship status for prospective voters in Maricopa County,” Jasper Altaha, who works for the Maricopa County Elections Department said in an email. “We only use the SAVE program on the front end when a voter first registers to vote; we don’t use the SAVE program to remove voters from the voter rolls.”

Virginia and North Carolina only recently gained access to SAVE and haven’t started using it yet for voter registration while Iowa is awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.