Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Noncitizen voter purge makes a comeback in Florida

A Florida poll worker arranges voting booths. (2010 Tampa Bay Times photo)
A Florida poll worker arranges voting booths. (2010 Tampa Bay Times photo)

Sounding like someone who wants his old job back, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist stood before Louisiana Democrats and berated Republican-controlled states like Florida for developing policies to "suppress your vote."

"Our governor just announced last week he is going to start a purge of voters in Florida," Crist said Aug. 17. "They tried it last year -- the secretary of state put together a list of over 100,000 people that they thought were ineligible to vote. Came out there were less than ten -- I mean, what a joke. It’s unconscionable what they will do to win these elections."

We fact-checked Crist’s claim that less than 10 were ineligible to vote and rated that Mostly False. Crist had a point that only a small slice of voters was found to be ineligible due to their citizenship, but the number wasn’t as tiny as he said. The state started with about 180,000 and whittled the list to about 2,600 names they sent to election supervisors in April 2012. An Aug. 1, 2012 state elections document showed about 85 noncitizens ultimately were removed from the rolls, out of a total of about 12 million.

The state plans to launch another purge of noncitizen voters soon. That has led to renewed debate about the state’s effort -- something a coalition of liberal groups continue to fight.

PolitiFact Florida has fact-checked multiple claims about the state’s quest to hunt down noncitizen voters. Here are some of our previous checks from the summer of 2012 when the purge was hot news:

2012 vs. 2000: Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, compared Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s 2012 purge with the 2000 election. "In the 2000 Florida election, at least 1,100 eligible voters were wrongly dropped from voting rolls in an attempt to purge a list of felons," Nelson wrote. "Many of those who were dropped showed up to vote and were told they could not. And in a presidential election decided by 537 votes, that erroneous purge may have been a factor."

We rated that claim True. Nelson precisely cited a Palm Beach Post analysis that put the total number of people wrongfully dropped from the voter rolls in 2000 at about 1,100 while other estimates are much higher. Nelson’s broader point -- that a significant number of people were wrongly tossed from Florida’s voter rolls -- is valid.

The purge as a poll tax: U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, took up the cause of one of the voters included on the list: Bill Internicola, a Brooklyn-born World War II vet, who had voted for decades and was a Democratic voter in Davie, a town in Broward County. Hastings asked Internicola if the Broward Supervisor of Elections had mailed him a stamped envelope to send back his proof of citizenship. The answer: no. That led Hastings to say during a press conference:

"There is also a backdoor poll tax. In the letter that he (Internicola) received I asked him a moment ago, he did not have a prepaid envelope to send it back, meaning he had to buy a stamp. Don’t tell me how little it is -- that stamp is a cost. And the state should not be about the business of emaciating voter rights. They should be in the business of causing people to participate."

We rated that claim Half True.  There are some similarities between the poll tax and Florida’s recent search for noncitizen voters including that minorities in both cases were disproportionately affected. But there are some important differences including that the poll tax had a far more widespread effect than Florida’s search for noncitizen voters.   

The numbers behind the purge: The liberal group MoveOn.org said in a fundraising email  that Scott "tried to kick 180,000 people off the voter rolls in his state and is now suing the Department of Justice after they stepped in to stop him. Rick Scott's racist voter purge -- which directly targets Latino voters -- is so egregious that every one of the 67 supervisors of elections in the state -- Democrats, Republicans, and independents -- has so far refused to carry it out." We rated the statement about trying to kick off 180,000 people as False because the state only sent about 2,600 of those names to election supervisors. We also rated their statement that every supervisor refused to carry it out False. Many supervisors carried out the state directive to verify the citizenship of some voters for several weeks. We only found one county among the several we checked -- Palm Beach -- that never contacted voters on the list.

See a claim about voting or other topics worthy of a fact-check? Contact us @PolitifactFL or truthometer@politifact.com