Florida aims to protect ballot integrity

Published Jun. 21, 2012

As Florida's secretary of state and chief elections officer, I have a duty under both state and federal laws to ensure that Florida's voter registration rolls are current and accurate. If my department receives credible and reliable information that ineligible voters are registered to vote, we must take the appropriate actions to ensure the integrity of Florida's voter rolls.

As you may be aware, the Florida Department of State received information last year indicating that noncitizens may be registered to vote in Florida. Because all it takes is one ineligible voter to neutralize the vote of an eligible voter, my department began working promptly and thoroughly to process this new information and begin identifying the noncitizens who must be removed from the rolls.

In April 2012, the names of more than 2,600 potential noncitizens were sent to the state's 67 county supervisors of elections for an additional review of the information we received. The Florida statutes require supervisors of elections to review the evidence and contact potentially ineligible voters before removing them from the rolls, which the supervisors do based on their own evaluation of the information. Since April, supervisors have indicated that more than 100 ineligible voters have been removed for being a noncitizen, and the number may actually be higher because not all supervisors have provided feedback yet on the evidence provided to them nearly two months ago.

Despite our success identifying ineligible voters based on the information available to the state, there is the potential to identify and remove additional noncitizens, potentially thousands, on the voter rolls if the federal government is willing to support our efforts. Knowing this to be the case, we have spent the last year making repeated requests for access to the most comprehensive database of information on noncitizens, a database that belongs to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

However, despite their legal obligation to provide us access, the federal government has refused. Complicating our efforts to work with the federal government, the U.S. Justice Department recently demanded we stop removing noncitizens from the voter rolls entirely until after the general election in November.

The stance of the federal government hardly seems designed to protect the integrity of elections and to ensure that eligible voters have their votes counted without being neutralized by an ineligible voter. As a result, the Florida Department of State recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to grant us access to their database of noncitizen information, and we are fighting a lawsuit by the Justice Department claiming we cannot remove noncitizens from the voter rolls.

The actions by the federal government are negatively impacting Florida's ability to fulfill its legal obligation to verify voter registration rolls are current and accurate. Permitting ineligible noncitizen voters to cast ballots undermines the mission of the Florida Department of State and erodes the faith the electorate has in the fairness and reliability of the electoral process. Florida's primary election day is Aug. 14, making it even more urgent for the federal government to join our efforts to ensure the integrity of Florida elections. It's not just the lawful thing to do. It's the right thing to do.

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Ken Detzner is Florida's secretary of state.