Florida’s effort to search for noncitizens on the voter rolls launched a firestorm in the weeks leading up to the 2012 presidential election.
Gov. Rick Scott’s initiative was lampooned on The Daily Show; the U.S. Department of Justice cried foul; and two South Florida congressmen held a presser to tout errors on the list, including a Brooklyn-born World War II vet flagged as potentially not being a citizen.
But in the end, just how many noncitizen voters did Florida find among almost 12 million voters?
Former Gov. Charlie Crist gave his answer in a speech to Louisiana Democrats on Aug. 17, 2013. He started by bashing the state’s recent announcement that it intends to scrutinize the voter rolls for noncitizens yet again.
"Our governor just announced last week he is going to start a purge of voters in Florida," Crist said. "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 10. I mean, what a joke. It’s unconscionable what they will do to win these elections."
Crist, a former Republican turned independent turned Democrat, is considering a bid against Scott. If Crist runs in 2014, one way he will try to boost turnout among Democrats and minorities is by hammering Scott’s record on voting rights.
So was he correct to say that the effort to get rid of noncitizen voters only led to "less than 10" being removed?
2012 efforts to purge voter rolls
Shortly after Scott took office in 2011 he asked his top election official at the time to look into removing noncitizens from the voter rolls.
By 2012, the Division of Elections put together a list of about 180,000 potential noncitizens based on driver’s license data.
The state whittled the list down to about 2,600 names and sent them to county election supervisors in April 2012. Liberal groups criticized the list that they said disproportionately targeted Hispanics and other minorities. Supervisors found all sorts of errors and would later use words such as "sloppy" and "embarrassing" to describe the state initiative. One of the problems was that the driver’s license data doesn’t get updated when a legal resident later becomes a citizen.
By September 2012, the Division of Elections said it had confirmed 207 noncitizens on the voter rolls and that the names would be provided to county elections supervisors to contact the voters. Any that matched federal homeland security data would be removed.
Later that month the state produced a new list of 198 potentially ineligible voters. But by then, supervisors were fed up with the timing and process, and the effort appeared to fizzle out.
A year later, in August 2013, news broke that the state was about to launch another round of searching for noncitizens on the voter rolls.
So what was the total removed?
PolitiFact Florida asked the division of elections for the total number of noncitizens removed, including a breakdown by county, during 2012. The best figures we could obtain from the state only included those removed as of Aug. 1, 2012.
We counted 85 who were listed as being removed because they were "not a U.S. citizen." (A few additional voters on that list were removed for other reasons, such as being dead or moving out of state. One category for removal was "request by voter," though it doesn’t explain why the voters requested it.)
As a back-stop, we next checked in directly with some of the county supervisors of elections to see how many noncitizen voters they removed from the rolls. Their answers made it clear it was more than 10.
Miami-Dade: 16 voters removed.
Collier: 36 removed.
Broward: Seven voters removed.
Orange: Seven voters removed.
Lee: Six voters removed.
Hillsborough: Two voters removed.
Pasco: Two voters removed.
Pinellas: Six voters removed.
We asked Crist to explain how he arrived at his figure of "less than 10."
"Just from news accounts, may have been around 40 or so actually," he responded in an email. "And somewhat more purged."
He sent us a copy of an August 2013 New York Times article about the state’s renewed effort that stated: "Ultimately, the list of possible noncitizen voters shrank to 198. Of those, fewer than 40 had voted illegally."
Crist said that in 2012, "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 10."
If Crist’s point was that only a tiny fraction of noncitizens were found on the voter rolls, that’s certainly true. But he’s wrong that the number was less than 10.
The best data we could nail down from the state was that there were about 85 noncitizens removed as of August 1, 2012.
We rate his claim Mostly False.