Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Politics

One woman's experience in Florida's targeting of noncitizen voters

She's the prototypical Tampa Bay resident in many ways.

Born in Cleveland, she fled for the warmth of Pasco County. She's a Republican who works in sales, loves fishing and the beach, and she'll turn 49 next month.

The daughter of Cuban-born parents, she's Hispanic, part of the fastest-growing minority in Florida, and has a long, hyphenated name: Manoly Castro-Williamson.

"Manoly cannoli," she jokes when people don't know how to say it. "Then everybody thinks it's Italian, which it's not. It's Spanish." Manoly is a nickname for Manuela, she said.

Oh yeah, one more thing: Florida falsely accused her of not being a U.S. citizen.

For reasons she can't fathom, her name got on the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles' list of 2,700 suspected noncitizens who may be voting illegally in Florida.

It was a mistake.

Castro-Williamson is what's known as a "supervoter." She hasn't skipped an election in years. But Pasco Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, just doing his job, sent her a scary letter warning that she might be breaking the law.

She faxed her Ohio birth certificate to Corley's office.

"I was a little bit shocked," she said. "Angry? No. I'm proud to be an American. Anything they can do to protect the integrity of voting is a good thing."

That's what the state says it's doing by combing through these names.

The list was developed last year by comparing the list of drivers with the voter roll. The cat got out of the bag when motorists in Fort Myers were being called for jury duty and asking to be excused because they weren't citizens.

But now it's clear the list isn't perfect. So far in Pinellas County, three of 36 people have proved their citizenship. As in most counties, most of the rest can't yet be located.

Some elections supervisors are upset that so many of the names on the list appear to be Hispanic, and that a purging of the voter rolls is taking place so close to the Nov. 6 presidential election.

"Strategically, this may not have been the best timing," says Seminole County elections supervisor Mike Ertel, who posted a suspected noncitizen's passport on Twitter. "It's good to make sure the voter rolls are clean, but let's do it in a way that inspires public confidence."

Six voter advocacy groups have demanded that Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner stop the purging, calling it not only inaccurate and unfair but illegal, claiming that federal law prohibits any systematic removal of voters less than 90 days before a primary or general election for federal office. (The primary is Aug. 14.)

The groups, including the Fair Elections Legal Network, Advancement Project and Project Vote, also fault Florida's 30-day notice-by-mail rule as "highly flawed."

Detzner has not yet answered the letter, but spokesman Chris Cate says: "We disagree with their interpretation of the law. Not only do we believe it's crucial to have ineligible voters removed from the voter rolls, we're obligated by law to do it."

Regardless of how this exercise plays out, you just know that nothing will stop Manoly Castro-Williamson from voting in November.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

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