PolitiFact Florida: Group wrong about costs of Scott voter purge attempt

Florida’s GOP administration is preparing to send a new batch of names of potential noncitizens to county election supervisors.
Florida’s GOP administration is preparing to send a new batch of names of potential noncitizens to county election supervisors.
Published Jan. 27, 2014

At the start of a statewide election year, Democrats and the NAACP launched new attacks on Florida's plan for a new round of searching for noncitizens who registered to vote.

House Democratic leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach and the NAACP held a news conference Jan. 13 to criticize Florida's Republican administration for preparing to send a new batch of names of potential noncitizens to county election supervisors. Secretary of State Ken Detzner, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, is leading the project.

In a news release, the left-leaning group Florida for All criticized the state's spending on the effort in 2012:

"Rick Scott's Administration spent over $100,000 of taxpayer money during their first voter purge attempt in 2012, producing lists with hundreds and hundreds of citizens that local Supervisors of Elections proved were legally registered voters. Over 80 percent of those on the purge lists were people of color and more than 6 in 10 were Hispanic. It was a costly embarrassment that Floridians fear will be repeated."

Florida for All is a political action committee that is at least in part funded by the Democratic Governors Association. The group's main target appears to be Scott, who is up for re-election this year and could face his predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat.

In 2012, the Division of Elections put together a list of about 180,000 potential noncitizens based on driver's license data. The state later reduced that list to 2,600 — and then again to about 200. As county election supervisors found multiple errors, later criticizing the effort as "sloppy" and "embarrassing," the project was scrapped as Election Day approached. In the end, about 85 registered voters were removed from the list.

Detzner later apologized and vowed a better process this time using a federal data source called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE.

We asked Neal Waltmire, a spokesman for Florida for All, where it got the "over $100,000" figure.

Waltmire directed us to a May 2012 story by NPR Miami correspondent Greg Allen with this sentence: "Chris Cate, a spokesman for Ken Detzner, the secretary of state, says his office is working to improve the process — spending about $100,000 to update its records."

Cate, now a spokesman for CFO Jeff Atwater, told PolitiFact he didn't recall placing a total dollar amount on the project.

"It's regular staff time — there wouldn't be a way to quantify the value," Cate said. "It is people who would be working anyway."

It costs the state 50 cents each time it checks a name in SAVE. At the time of the NPR story, it was possible that the state would process 180,000 names — so at 50 cents a hit, that would equal $90,000, or close to that $100,000 figure.

But the state scrapped the effort and never checked all those names using SAVE data.

So how much did the state end up spending?

We can't pin down a total dollar value because it's difficult to account for time spent by state elections' staff.

However we were able to nail down some costs by interviewing Detzner's spokeswoman, Brittany Lesser:

• The total litigation costs for Florida's case against the U.S. Department of Human Services in its quest to gain access to SAVE was $50,705 in August 2012. The state used outside counsel.

• The Secretary of State must pay DHS $300 a year to access SAVE. "There were no other upfront costs," Lesser said.

• In 2012, the state spent about $1,287.50 checking names using SAVE data.

County elections supervisors also had expenses.

"County expenses would basically be staff time which would not be broken out usually and any postage and notice publication costs for individuals notified," said Ronald Labasky, attorney for the statewide association of election supervisors. "Since there weren't very many before it stopped, it probably wasn't very much."

So we can't fully account for Florida's costs, but we do know the state spent a total of about $52,000, largely for litigation and to use SAVE data.

Florida for All wrongly used a source that was based on initial information about the state's project and did not reflect the total cost months later, resulting in a total that was about double the best number we could nail down.

We rate the claim Mostly False.

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