Florida Dems push back against voter purge

A Republican primary voter heads to the polls early at polling precinct No. 133 at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Polling booths opened in Florida on January 31, the largest state so far in the Republican White House race, with Mitt Romney holding a solid lead over Newt Gingrich in the latest polls.
Florida polling precinct
A Republican primary voter heads to the polls early at polling precinct No. 133 at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Updated: 4:28 p.m. ET

(CBS News) Amid continued controversy surrounding a recent purge of potential non-citizens on Florida voting rolls, a handful of Democratic Florida lawmakers are pushing back, arguing in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that the process "fails to meet the basic standards of accountability" and that proceeding with it would be "irresponsible."

The Florida Department of Elections is in the process of sweeping the state election rolls and identifying Florida residents deemed to be potential non-citizens based on a cross-search of data from the Florida Department of Elections and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Voters are notified by letter that they have been identified as potentially ineligible to vote, and have thirty days upon receipt of the letter to provide documentation of their citizenship or face removal from the polls.

The database, however, relies on some outdated driver's license information, and a number of the people list of possible non-citizens have proven their citizenship, according to the state's elections department. An analysis by the Miami Herald showed that the list was predominantly made up of Democrats, independents and Latinos.

Among those marked as a potential non-citizen was Bill Internicola, a 91 year-old Brooklyn-born military veteran who received a Bronze Star for fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, as the Miami Herald reported yesterday.

According to the Miami-Dade Elections Department, 1,637 people were flagged as "non-citizens" in that county, which has a large Latino community. At least 359 people have since proven their citizenship, and the county has also identified an additional 26 people as citizens. Eighty-three people responded denying ineligibility but did not provide proof. Those people will be removed after 30 days from date of response if no proof is provided, and are currently listed as "awaiting final determination."

Chris Cates, a spokesperson from the Florida Department of Elections, said the department had not yet been able to calculate approximate number of people who had been mistakenly targeted as possible non-citizens, but argued that the process would inevitably strengthen Florida's voting process.

"This is a productive action and improves the integrity of elections by being able to identify these non-citizens," he said. Cates says that race and party affiliation aren't taken into account by the state in its attempts to identify non-citizens.

"The only category that we're concerned about is whether or not somebody is an eligible voter. And if somebody is an ineligible voter, then they need to be removed from the voter rolls," he added. "Party and race are not a factor in this process at all and not something that we're even checking at any point in the process."

Civil rights groups argue that the removal of voters violate the National Voting Rights Act of 1993, which prohibits states from removing voters from the rolls within 90 days prior to a federal election. Florida held its presidential preference primary in January, but the primary for House and Senate candidates will be held on August 14.

In Tuesday's letter, Florida Democratic lawmakers Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Corinne Brown, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson and Kathy Castor contend that "providing a list of names with questionable validity - created with absolutely no oversight - to county supervisors and asking that they purge their rolls will create chaotic results and further undermine Floridians' confidence in the integrity of our elections."

"Given that this process fails to meet basic standards of accountability, and that the legal authority for automatic removal of registered voters is currently being challenged in both state and federal court, it is irresponsible to proceed so quickly and with so little room for oversight," the letter reads.

At a press conference with Internicola yesterday, Deutch, who represents Florida's 19th district, urged Scott to suspend the purge.

"This process is being rushed just weeks before our August elections. This list is riddled with errors," he said. "We cannot sit idly by while Republicans conflate bloated voter rolls with unsubstantiated claims of mass voter fraud. Keeping our voter registration files up to date should be a year-round process conducted with real oversight, not a last-ditch effort that jeopardizes the rights of legitimate voters."

"We need transparency, we need accountability, and we need legality. It is Governor Scott's exacting responsibility to ensure that. Failure to do so is a total failure, and goes against the grain of fundamental democracy that all of us have fought for," added Hastings, in a statement. "Mr. Internicola fought for us to have this right to vote, and I went to jail for us to have this right to vote. To have somebody come along as a 'Scotty come lately' and decide that he is going to suppress the rights of voters is absolutely insane."