June 8th, 2012
10:04 AM ET
2 years ago

Despite feds' concerns, Florida secretary of state says voter roll 'purge' going forward

(CNN) - Florida's Republican-appointed secretary of state said Friday his state's effort to remove non-U.S. citizens from voter rolls is a legal and necessary step to prevent fraud, and that critics who label the move a political tactic are misinformed.

"If there's a non-citizen eligible to vote and votes in this election, they'll neutralize and delete someone else's vote that's eligible to vote," Ken Detzner said on CNN's "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien"

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He continued, "I can tell you, I hear from people every day that call my office and explain that they do not want their vote eliminated by a non-citizen who is registered to vote. That's the mission that I'm undertaking and I want to make sure this fall that everyone who is eligible to vote will vote and that votes will be counted here in Florida."

Detzner's remarks on CNN cap off a contentious week for the Florida secretary of state, who is engaged in a heated debate with the United States Department of Justice over the legality of Florida's decision to remove names from voter rolls. The move comes five months ahead of a presidential election in which swing state Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, will play an influential role.

Detzner, appointed to his post by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, defended his stance Friday, saying no eligible voter would be denied the right to cast a ballot.

"No individual who is eligible to vote has been removed from the voter list," Detzner said on CNN. "Everyone has been notified by the supervisors of election is given due process to notify that supervisor as to their citizenship or not. I'm confident that our due process will make sure that everyone is treated fairly going forward and no eligible citizens will be eliminated from the voter rolls."

Florida's move to remove non-eligible voters from its voter lists began after Scott, the state's Republican governor, pressed Florida's elections officials to identify non-U.S. citizens who had registered to vote illegally. Using information from the state's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the state identified more than 100,000 names of non-eligible voters that could potentially be on the lists illegally.

Critics say the plan unfairly targets minorities, and paint it as an attempt to dissuade typically Democratic voters from going to the polls. Ron Brownstein, a CNN political analyst, said Florida's move did have a political component.

"There is inherently a lot of politics in this," Brownstein said. "You have a series of Republican governors, Republican state legislators producing tough new laws making it tough to register voters and scrub the voter rolls. This against a backdrop of reality that in 2008 Barack Obama is polling around 80% of minority voters and almost all of these initiatives would have a disproportionate effect on minority voters."

Detzner said voters whose eligibility is questioned at the polls had legal recourse.

"There is a due process and I want to remind everyone should they show up at the poll and they claim that they're citizens, they can vote a provisional ballot at the poll which can be validated after the election," Detzner said.

The Department of Justice wrote in a letter last week that Florida failed to properly notify the federal government of their decision, writing the unilateral move violated provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Five counties in Florida are covered by the Voting Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation that gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and localities with a history of voter discrimination. Any changes in voting laws and procedures in the covered states must be "pre-cleared" with Washington.

Florida's three largest counties - Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach - all said earlier this week they had either stopped the removal of names from their voter lists or had never begun the process. The legal counsel for Florida's county election officials recommended halting the purge of names until the state responded to the federal government. That office has yet to issue an updated recommendation.

In its letter, the Justice Department also said the move appeared to violate a provision that prevents states from removing voters from rolls less than 90 days ahead of an election. Florida will hold a primary vote on August 14.

In the interview Friday, Detzner took issue with the Justice Department's legal assessment, claiming the federal provision against removing names from rolls only applies to people who were once eligible to vote but, through death or criminal conviction, had become ineligible.

"The law does not exclude us from eliminating non-citizens from the list," Detzner said. "We do at the present time during this 90-day period we do eliminate individuals that are felons, people that are mentally incompetent and those that are deceased. It seems no logical question that those individuals might have more rights, or the individuals that are non-citizens, would have more rights than someone who is a felon."

Detzner also accused the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of violating federal law by preventing his state from accessing a citizenship database.

"I have spoken to many supervisors and they, like I, are waiting for the Department of Homeland Security to give us access to the SAVE database which they are legally required to do so that we can better and more accurately determine citizenship here in Florida," Detzner said. "I'm waiting for a return letter, and response from [Homeland Security Secretary Janet] Napolitano who I wrote to a week ago requesting an opportunity to meet and determine how we can get access to that voter record."

CNN en Español's Adriana Hauser contributed to this report.


Filed under: Florida
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Sydnium S. Washington, EC, HOTD

    I'm thinking they want 'aliens' to not vote.

    June 8, 2012 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  2. mctampa

    Another lawsuit that we the citizens of Florida will be on the hook for because of this extreme governor. No worries here, unlike walker in wis, this govenor is despised by both parties and will be booted out when his term ends. He has even pissed off the republicans here.

    June 8, 2012 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  3. Dr. KnowItAll

    This should happen in every state.

    June 8, 2012 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  4. h2oclerk

    Good for Detzner and Florida. To the critics: WHAT PART OF "INELIGIBLE" OR "ILLEGAL" do you not understand???

    Every state should, before EVERY election, review their voter rosters to make certain that no illegal aliens get the chance to ILLEGALLY vote. Felons? Frankly, I don't care much if felons vote or not – as long as they are legal U.S. citizens. When they do get released from jail, they'll still have to live under whatever our sad batch of politicians has legislated.

    June 8, 2012 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  5. Micahel Wheeler

    This is a non-issue. If you have been removed because you don't appear to be a legitimate voter, avail yourself of your legal right to cast a provisional ballot and prove again that you are legally entitled to vote. If the Democrats don't like that, then they need to quit stalling and blocking voter ID laws all across the country. Then it would no longer be necessary to try to remove potential illegal voters from the system. This is no more an infringement on civil liberties than requiring a person to have an ID to cash a check, open a bank account or rent a home.

    June 8, 2012 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  6. RS, CA

    Please, please, please - do this in California - soon!

    June 8, 2012 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  7. A True Centrist

    What is the issue here...isn't the guy just doing his job by only allowing eligible people to vote?

    June 8, 2012 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  8. Robert Collins

    Where was this during the 2010 elections?

    June 8, 2012 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  9. D

    For republicans to rise back to power, they must rob Americans of their vote through suppression or purging because Romney is such a weak flawed candidate who has no chance of winning on his own merit.

    June 8, 2012 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  10. Rick

    How many legal and eligible voters is it ok to purge and therefore deny the right to vote for every one person not eligible that is prevented from voting? Please tell us governor scott. Every person that goes to vote that is prevented should sue him personally as well as anyone else involved in this purge. They're throwing out the baby with the bath water. To a liberal, this is absolutely outrageous, un-Ajmerican, treasonous and should be severely punished.

    June 8, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  11. vic , nashville ,tn

    State don’t care what Fed say
    Counties don’t care what state say
    Fed Won the battle

    June 8, 2012 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  12. Happy_Days_are_here_again

    Does this mean Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, H-itler, Convicted Criminals and dead people won't be able to vote in November?

    How will BHO win Florida then?

    June 8, 2012 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  13. Taffy

    You don't have to be registered with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to be a citizen. That's ridiculous.

    June 8, 2012 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  14. Mikey

    I heard a Florida official say that they wanted "eligible voters to vote". Of course, they don't want illegals to vote. The problem is that they seem unconcerned about the possibility of purging eligible voters from the roles.

    The real truth is that all of these voting restrictions are aimed less at "curbing fraud" that isn't actually occuring at any degree that would impact elections than toward restricting voting, especially among poor and minority voters. This is unethical, unconstitutional, unamerican and those who deliberate disenfranchise voters through such scemes should be put in jail. Is this how the right wants to win the election? Or do they (you) care about the difference between right and wrong at all. "We think we are in the right, so any tactic to achieve our aims is okay???" That is dangerous territory.

    June 8, 2012 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  15. Mikey

    @ Rick – This is outragious, un-American, and treasonous to ALL loyal patriotic citizens.

    June 8, 2012 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  16. Dean

    This will hurt all Democrat candidates...I like it.

    June 8, 2012 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  17. jdh

    This whole thing is absurd. Funny how Republicans are for less government control except when its in their interest. They don't even deny the fact that most of the supposed non citizens are minorities who would likely vote democratic. Its still lying if you don't tell the whole truth.

    June 8, 2012 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  18. demwit

    Only US citizens can vote!? When did that start???

    June 8, 2012 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  19. Mikey

    @A True Centrist – "What is the issue here...isn't the guy just doing his job by only allowing eligible people to vote?"

    How many eligible voters are you willing to disenfranchise for each inelligible one prevented from voting. Moreover, this is a solution without a problem. Nationwide, there are a few dozen cases of actual voter fraud over the past decade, barely enough to throw the election for dog catcher in Newark if they all happened at once. The goal is to pervert our electorial system and I would think ALL patriotic Americans would be repulsed by the effort.

    June 8, 2012 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  20. Bill

    The DOJ should shut them down and file charges against Scott and Detzner.

    June 8, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  21. scarf

    I'm a registered Democrat, and actually able to have civil conversations regarding public policy with a co-worker, a Tea Party Republican. He and I are both in favor of some form of photo ID be presented at the polls by a voter. I want it issued by the government at taxpayer's expense (like a driver's license) so that poor and elderly people without a drivier's license can still vote. He's opposed to using driver's licenses, because they are so easily faked. So, I suggested using a national ID card to prove eligibility to vote. He is opposed to the government having that much information in their files on innocent citizens. I asked him what his suggestion was. He thought about it, and decided that the cure was worse than the disease.

    June 8, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  22. Delusional Democrats Whining Crying Blaming, My Dream Has Come True

    Florida and EVERY state should doing this on a continuous basis. I commend Florida for their proactive approach to protecting the voting rights of LEGAL CITIZENS to vote and have their vote mean something. I wonder, are the illegals that registered to vote charged and prosecuted for any violation of the law? They damn well should be charged, jailed and deported not only for being here illegally but for threatening the electoral process in this country. THEY ARE CRIMINALS who have shown comtempt and disregard for the laws of this country. DEPORT THEM.

    June 8, 2012 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  23. Wes B.

    It would be a bad thing to have non-citizens voting. True. But you know what else is bad? Breaking the law by scrubbing the voting records. The Voting Rights Act PROHIBITS what they are doing! Shouldn't this Secretary of State be thrown in jail for breaking the law?

    Two wrongs don't make a right.

    Furthermore, there is no evidence of voter fraud being an issue.

    June 8, 2012 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  24. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    The questions are how did these people determine that someone isn't a citizen or let someone onto the voting roles that isn't a citizen? I don't understand how Florida is doing this now and didn't do it years ago. They need to be very careful as to how they purge people. It can be a slippery slope to adding people that aren't and taking people off who are. What about ex-cons who have served their time and should be reinstated... Are they not going to get back on the voting roles even though they are now regular citizens?

    June 8, 2012 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  25. JustenO

    CNN,

    You are a day late and a dollar short. BayNews9 is reporting that state election supervisors have put a stop to the purge.

    June 8, 2012 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
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