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The liberal group MoveOn.org warned its supporters in a blistering email that Florida Gov. Rick Scott is engaged in voter suppression.
The subject line: "Secret GOP plan revealed."
"Republican Governor Rick 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," the June 27 fundraising email said. "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."
MoveOn also has run TV ads in Florida (watch them here and here) about the state-led effort to remove noncitizens from the voter rolls.
Some of the email’s claims struck us as a bit off, so we decided to investigate.
Here, we’ll fact-check whether Scott tried to kick 180,000 people off the voter rolls. In a related fact-check, we will explore whether every election supervisor has "refused" to carry out this project.
The origins of the list
Scott’s quest to remove noncitizens from the voter rolls began shortly after the governor took office in 2011. He asked the state’s chief elections official at the time, Kurt Browning, to look into whether noncitizens were illegally voting.
Two departments, the Florida Department of State and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, compiled a list comparing voter registration information with driver's license data.
It’s possible for a noncitizen to get a driver's license, but it’s illegal for a noncitizen to vote. So the agencies looked for noncitizen drivers to see if they had also registered to vote.
There’s a catch there, though: The driver's license data is not updated when people become citizens, at least not until they need to renew their licenses.
The state found 180,000 names that they considered potential noncitizens. But the state government itself does not have the power to remove people from the voting rolls -- that power lies with the local supervisors of elections.
It’s important to note here that the state did not send all 180,000 names to the local supervisors. Instead, the state identified a much smaller subset of potential noncitizens and sent those names to the local supervisors in April.
The first batch of about 1,200 names included people who get annual drivers' licenses because they are on work or student visas.
Another 1,400 were the first ones that the state verified that names on the driver's license list and the voter registration list matched, said Chris Cate, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Elections.
So that came to 2,600 names that the state sent to the local supervisors, not 180,000 names.
The state gave supervisors a sample letter to send to the registered voters asking for proof of citizenship. If the voters failed to comply, state law indicated they would be removed from the voter rolls within one or two months. The largest contingent came from Miami-Dade County, which has a high foreign-born population.
Democrats questioned the motives and timing of a Republican governor months before a presidential election. Republican leaders pointed out that it’s a felony for noncitizens to vote. A Miami Herald analysis determined that there were more Democrats than Republicans on the list and that about 58 percent were Hispanic.
The feds step in
And then the dueling lawsuits began.
The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to the state ordering it to halt its noncitizen purge on May 31.
On June 11, the state Division of Elections filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, seeking access to the SAVE database, which contains information on noncitizens. The state had been trying to access that database for about a year. (MoveOn wrote that the state sued DOJ, but the state actually sued DHS.)
The next day, June 12, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against Florida.
On June 27, a U.S. District Court Judge denied the DOJ’s request for a restraining order. But that wasn’t really a game-changer, because the state hadn’t sent additional names to counties after April. By late June, many counties had either finished or halted the process. (See our related factcheck here.)
Before and after the feds got involved, state officials left open the possibility that they might send additional names from the list of 180,000 to the counties.
"When we are able to improve the information we have from the driver’s license database by accessing SAVE, we will begin sending additional names to supervisors," Cate told PolitiFact in an email.
We asked MoveOn specifically about the 180,000 number being overblown.
MoveOn spokesman Nick Berning said that the 180,000 are "at risk" of being thrown off the rolls.
"Florida’s State Department of Elections has disclosed that it has a list of 180,000 people that was assembled in connection with the purge, which is why the U.S. Justice Department has written that the purge ‘may ultimately target more than 180,000 voters.’ … To clarify, our intention was to identify for our members the large number of voters that are at risk of being purged off the rolls, and we will endeavor to use language that more accurately explains this as we continue our campaign to protect voters from this discriminatory purge."
MoveOn.org said, "Republican Governor Rick Scott tried to kick 180,000 people off the voter rolls in his state...."
The 180,000 was the state’s starting point for gathering data on potential noncitizens. But the state forwarded less than 2 percent of that list -- about 2,600 -- to the counties for further review.
Also, state officials were careful to say that the list was "potential" noncitizens and asked counties to contact those registered voters for proof of citizenship. That means the county officials had the power to decide whether anyone should be kicked off the list.
MoveOn wildly exaggerated the number of voters that Scott tried to "kick off" -- it wasn’t close to 180,000. It was 2,600. If the state had forwarded the full list of 180,000 names, or even close to that number, MoveOn would have been on more solid ground.
We rate this claim False.
MoveOn.org email, "Secret GOP plans revealed," June 27, 2012
PolitiFact, "U.S. Rep. Hastings says Florida’s noncitizen voter purge is a ‘backdoor poll tax," June 7, 2012
Miami Herald letter to the editor from Secretary of State Ken Detzner, "Integrity of our voter rolls must be ensured," June 25, 2012
Miami Herald, "Legal voters may — or may not — have been purged from rolls in noncitizen hunt; Voting purge program," June 13, 2012
PolitiFact, "U.S. Rep. Hastings says Florida’s noncitizen voter purge is a ‘backdoor poll tax,’" June 7, 2012
Florida Department of State, Florida Department of State vs. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, June 11, 2012
U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice vs. Florida Secretary of State, June 12, 2012
Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, Memo from attorney Ron Labasky, June 1, 2012
Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, Memo from attorney Ron Labasky, June 27, 2012
Florida Statutes, Registration records maintenance activities, ineligibility determinations 98.075, 2011
Interview, Vicki Davis, Martin County Supervisor of Elections and president of the Florida
State Association of Supervisors of Elections, June 28, 2012
Interview, Nick Berning, spokesman for MoveOn.org, June 29, 2012
Interview, Chris Cate, spokesman for the Florida Division of Elections, June 28, 2012
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