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Land O'Lakes man says paperwork mistake made him target of voter purge

Peter Muellerleile was living in Toronto as a teenager when his family won a vacation to Florida in 1969.

"They loved it so much, we came down again for a summer vacation the next year," he said. "They said, 'Let's pack up, let's move to Florida.' We've lived here ever since."

But he never became a U.S. citizen. Now the Canadian national living in Land O'Lakes is one of the faces of the state's controversial effort to strip suspected noncitizens from the voter rolls.

Muellerleile, 54, became a voter in 2006 but never cast a ballot. He acknowledges he shouldn't have been on the rolls, but said it was a mistake. He also said the so-called "voter purge" has been a bureaucratic nightmare that made him feel like the subject of a witch hunt.

"It seemed more malicious than something they were just trying to clear up," he said. "I felt more targeted than reviewed."

It all started with an April 20 letter sent to Muellerleile by Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. Gov. Rick Scott's administration had just sent county election officials nearly 2,700 names of suspected noncitizens on the voter rolls. That effort stopped weeks later after some bona fide citizens were spooked by similar letters, and critics called the process voter suppression.

But Muellerleile agreed with the letter. Ten days later, he responded with his own letter: "I have NEVER attempted to vote or register to vote in any county or state in the U.S." He asked to be taken off the rolls immediately. He was.

The story doesn't end there.

Two weeks after his response, Corley's office sent him another letter saying he had "been convicted of a felony and (is) not eligible to vote."

"I've had a few speeding tickets, but good God, that's ridiculous," he said. "That's blatant made up crap. How do you get away with that?" (Corley said his office intended to send a simple confirmation letter and that the felon letter was erroneous.)

Then, in July, an investigator from the Pasco-Pinellas state attorney's office met Muellerleile at his home. He said the mistake happened when he was renewing his driver's license. The investigator showed him a copy of the renewal form with a mark next to "U.S. Citizen."

"Apparently there was a smudge or an 'x' by the 'Are you a voter' question," he said. "You clearly couldn't say there was an intended marking by that box. It basically was a blob."

Muellerleile told the investigator: "It wasn't me, I made no attempt to do it." He recalled the investigator saying, "If you're telling me you made no attempt to do it and have no intention to do it, then the case is closed."

An official at the state attorney's office could not confirm the details of Muellerleile's case Friday afternoon.

Illegally registering to vote — even if you don't cast a ballot — is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Corley said he had authorities review the case for several reasons. First, Muellerleile was listed as a registered Democrat. Picking a party is "an extra step in the process," he said. Plus, Corley's office sent Muellerleile several sample ballots and other voter information mailings, and he never asked to be taken off the rolls.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles found three license applications that list Muellerleile as a citizen. Only in 2011 was his status correctly changed to permanent legal resident.

"It doesn't change the fact that he was registered," Corley said. "There was some evidence to suggest at a minimum of review that he illegally registered to vote."

Muellerleile has lived in America for four decades. There's a stars and stripes decoration outside his front door. He's married to an American, has two American children and considers himself an American as well.

So why didn't he ever become a citizen? "The situation never presented itself where it was an issue," he said.

"Ironically, I am very much into the political views of things," he said. "The actual going and casting a ballot is something I haven't done. I just never put the 'x' on the spot."

News researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Land O'Lakes man says paperwork mistake made him target of voter purge 09/28/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 28, 2012 8:18pm]
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