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Governor’s office unveils new non-citizen voter purge – but is it a solution in search of a problem?

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

Governor’s office unveils new non-citizen voter purge – but is it a solution in search of a problem?

The unanswered question is: Just how many law-abiding US citizens might find themselves caught in this sweep?

By K. Chandler

     As part of the Scott Ad-ministration’s five-city “Integrity Tour,” a two-hour conference was held Oct. 9, 2013 at Broward County Election Supervisor Brenda Snipes’ office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Attending the conference were several election supervisors – including Susan Bucher, representing Palm Beach County – who was there to learn first-hand the new verification procedures under-way in the latest non-citizen voter purge to come down from Tallahassee.

According to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was accompanied on the tour by Maria Matthews, Election Division Chief, the Division of Elections (DOE) would continue to cross check Voter Registration Records with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), and with the Driver and Vehicles Information Database (DAVID) in an effort to “flag” potential matches between non-US citizens, and to determine “whether an alien registration number is available for the non-US citizen.”

If questions regarding citizenship persist, the DOEwill then access the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s database known as SAVE (Systematic Alien Verifications for Entitlements), which is used to verify a person’s immigration status for government benefits, licensing etc.

While the Florida Dept. of State doesn’t have the authority to remove voters from the rolls — only Election Supervisors have that authority – the Florida Dept. of State has the responsibility of evaluating “each potential match” to determine whether “credible, reliable in-formation” exists that identifies the registered voter “as a citizen or a non-citizen.”

According to Sec. Detzner, the data contained within SAVE “comes from the FBI, CIA,” and other reporting agencies, and is the “only available database nationally that we have that monitors…the status of non-citizens.”

In 2012, it might be noted, the Obama Administration declined to permit Florida to use SAVE ,citing problems with ac-curacy and the fact that the program wasn’t designed for the purpose of eligible voter registration verification. Then in July of 2013, a court judge gave the State of Florida the go-a-head to use SAVE.

However, according to Tuyet-Quan Thai, regional director with the Office of Inspector General (OIG)-Dept. of Homeland Security, several recommendations – stemming from a 2012 OIG report entitled: Improvements Needed for SAVE to Accurately Determine Immigration Status of Individuals Ordered Deported – had yet to be “verified as being in place.”

Citing “high error rates for individuals ordered deported,” the recommendations, which were narrowly focused on deportees, specifically called for the US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) to co-ordinate a data reporting system in conjunction with other immigration agencies that would accurately reflect the “status of people who’ve been deported in the SAVE data-base.”

“At this time, we have not closed those recommendations,” said Quan Thai in an Oct. 20 phone call.

For Palm Beach County Election Supervisor Susan Bucher, the issues surrounding SAVE are prompting more questions than answers.  Bucher stressed the need for more in-depth in-formation regarding the agencies that are funneling information into SAVE’s data-base. She said her concern stemmed from the fact that the “law re-quires the State” to provide election supervisors with “credible and reliable information.”

However, she noted, without knowing the identity of the sources imputing information into SAVE’s database; where the information is coming from, and how often it was updated, made it difficult for her to feel comfortable using the program.

She also alluded to a 2012 US Justice Department letter to Sec. Ken Detzner in which Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote: “The SAVE Program relies on DHS records, which do not include a comprehensive and definitive listing of U.S. Citizens.” And searches can only be completed using unique identifiers (alien registration numbers or certificate numbers on immigration-type documents entered into the SAVE Program.) Verifications based on name and/or date of birth, are not allowed.

Earlier in 2011, the Florida Dept. of State acknowledged to DHS that the DOE didn’t collect alien registration numbers or certificate numbers, which has been a prerequisite to participating in the SAVE Program.

Furthermore, the Florida DHSMV may or may not have alien registration numbers depending upon whether the alien number was recorded at the time the individual applied for a driver’s license.

In some instances, Bucher pointed out, the information in DHSMV was over a decade old. “Either they left, or are citizens now and eligible to vote,” she stated, adding that the state was mandated by law to provide credible, reliable information on deceased individuals, felons, or those adjudicated mentally in-competent. “Now we’re being tasked with identifying non-citizens without even knowing how pervasive the problem is.”

“Nobody more than a supervisor of elections wants a clean voter file. We’re constantly up-dating our files, but the reality is that we don’t always get up-dated felony restorations from the State, which is required by law. If the State can’t keep up with their core responsibities, how can they possibly handle these new circumstances?

That sentiment was under-scored by the fact that neither Sec. Ken Detzner nor Election Division Chief Maria Matthews could define the magnitude or scope of the problem. Nor could they cite a single Florida case in which non-citizens were prosecuted for casting their vote un-lawfully.

Fueling that concern, in 2012 a botched voter purge turned up 182,000 “non-citizens” whose names were on the state’s registered voter rolls. Eventually, that number was whittled down to 198 individuals or just .001 percent. The ill-fated purge was later scrapped just prior to the Nov. 2012 election in the face of mounting lawsuits.

Bucher said she was also concerned about the financial outlay since each SAVE search costs the county $.50 cents. “I told Sec. Detzner that the additional costs weren’t in our budget. I don’t know how much to ask for — $5,000 or $50,000? Maybe if the State would run the numbers, then we could know how many potential people we’re dealing with here.

That viewpoint was strongly noted in the 2012 US Justice Dept. letter to Sec. Detzner in which Asst. Att. General Thomas Perez wrote: “To the extent that you have information that potentially implicates illegal voter registration or voting by non-citizens, please share this information as soon as possible with your local offices of the FBI and your local US Attorney’s Office, who have jurisdiction over criminal violation of federal law.”



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