by Suevon Lee, ProPublica.
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Florida over its voter purge program aimed at removing non-citizens from voter rolls. We’ve taken a closer look at the controversy surrounding the program and why the federal government has gotten involved:
So what is Florida doing and why is it so controversial?
Florida has compiled a list of potential non-citizen registered voters using data provided by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. It has sent the list to county election supervisors and requested that the supervisors contact flagged voters to verify their citizenship.
In its suit, the Justice department has claimed the data is “outdated and inaccurate” and may mistakenly identify registered voters who are U.S. citizens, depriving them of their right to vote. In response, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has reiterated his support for the initiative, which he says is necessary to preserve the integrity of voting rolls.
Isn’t it important to perform such voter roll purges to make sure voter lists are up-to-date?
Yes, every state must go through its voter rolls in order to account for death, relocation out of state, or change in eligibility due to a criminal conviction or mental incapacitation. (Read more about purge practices in this 2008 report).
And of course, only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in this country.
Florida is not the first state to flag the issue of non-citizen voting: both New Mexico and Colorado have taken similar steps. But Florida’s efforts — directing county officials to purge suspected non-citizens from the voter rolls — are getting extra attention because it’s happening so close to a presidential election.
Florida officials say they’re ordering the purge because of concerns about voter fraud. Such voting fraud appears to be quite rare, perhaps because the penalties are strict — it’s a felony in Florida and many other states — and the payoff relatively modest (a single vote). A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice found very few cases. The report suggested that what was thought to be fraud was more often a result of registration error or other mistakes.
How many non-citizen voters has Florida found?
One hundred and five, according to Chris Cate, spokesman for the Florida Department of State. Those are non-citizens who are registered to vote. Fifty six of them have “a voting history,” said Cate. He could not provide the number of times these people cast a ballot. Florida has 11 million registered voters.