TALLAHASSEE (Bloomberg) — Florida election officials have identified 198 residents who might be illegally registered to vote, down from their original list of 2,625, said Chris Cate, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
The state whittled its roster of potential noncitizens on the voter rolls after getting access to federal immigration data. The initial process, started at the direction of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, had been halted after county election supervisors complained state data was out of date.
The state Wednesday gave the new list to election supervisors and asked the county officials to remove any voters who failed to prove citizenship, according to a letter from election attorney Maria Matthews.
“At all times, the Department’s highest priority will be to ensure that Florida’s voter rolls are accurate and that all citizens’ right to vote is protected,” she wrote.
The hunt for noncitizens among Florida’s 11.5 million voters unfolds as the state is a critical prize in the race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The past three presidential contests in Florida were decided by 5 percentage points or less, including in 2000 when Republican George W. Bush won by 537 votes.
The state announced on Sept. 12 that it would alert voters who were improperly removed, or wrongly told they would be removed, that they can vote.
The process has drawn three lawsuits from voters and advocacy groups that claim the state is violating the Voting Rights Act. One suit, brought by Mi Familia Vota Education Fund in federal court in Tampa, claims the state must first seek approval from the federal government. Suits pending in Miami and Tallahassee federal courts claim the state can’t remove voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election.