FLORIDA'S 'POTENTIAL NON-CITIZENS' VOTER PURGE, 2011-2012
On 6/25/2012, an exclusive special investigation by The BRAD BLOG revealed that top Florida officials, including Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Sec. of State Ken Detzner, were attempting to mislead the public, the media, and perhaps even the federal courts about the state's attempt to purge as many as 182,000 "potential non-citizen" voters from the state's eligible voter rolls.
FL officials have undertaken a PR offensive, charging that the inaccuracy of their purge list and their inability to complete the purge prior to 5/16/12, as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), was the result of a refusal by the Obama Administration's Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide FL access to the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program's database of immigration and citizen records. SAVE is believed to be among the most complete and up-to-date sources of such information.
In truth, as revealed by a series of email communications [PDF] between a high-ranking attorney at the FL Dept. of State (FDOS) and DHS, Florida conceded as early as October of 2011 that their voter registration database does not keep "alien registration numbers" or other similar "unique identifiers" that have long been required for access to the SAVE database. Nonetheless, Scott, Detzner and other top Florida officials have been touting their conspiracy theory --- darkly suggesting an Obama Administration conspiracy to keep non-citizen voters on the rolls to enhance the President's re-election prospects in 2012 --- on every media outlet available to them.
Our examination of the deceptive PR blitz suggests that it has been advanced in order to distract from the illegality of their reckless purge of voter rolls, which threatens to disenfranchise thousands of perfectly legal citizen voters.
Here is a helpful timeline of known key dates, detailing the state's efforts to work around the long-established requirements for access to SAVE, and their admissions that the FDOS does not track immigration status of registered voters in a manner that permits FDOS to submit the required "unique identifiers" needed to access the SAVE database...
February 2011 - Newly elected FL Gov. Rick Scott (R) asks Sec. of State Kurt Browning (R) how he knows that all of the state's 11.2 milliton registered voters are legal U.S. citizens. That conversation results in a list of 182,000 "potential non-citizens" . The number is later paired down, using various state databases, to 25,000. Browning declines not to institute the purge urged by Scott, claiming he knew it wasn't "going to fly", that "voter rolls --- like any massive database --- has errors. And comparing the rolls to another database can compound those errors."
September 21, 2011 - A series of email communications [PDF] begin between the FL Dept. of State's Asst. General Counsel, Maria Matthews and Howard Roth, a DHS official. Matthews seeks information on whether DHS will be able to accommodate the state's request to use the SAVE database.
October 24, 2011 - Matthews' lengthy email to Roth details that Florids is seeking to "establish a systematic/continual process by which the State of Florida can use the SAVE program database and any other available federal databases to check the legal status of all currently registered voters on the rolls and/or new applicants before they become registered."
She confirms that she understands "the SAVE program alone is not going to necessarily include persons here illegally."
She then acknowledges being "told that any programmatic match [with SAVE] requires the alien registration or resident number," adding "This is a significant obstacle as the State of Florida does not collect and is not authorized to ask an applicant for proof of his or her legal status in the U.S."
In the same email, Matthews offers alternatives fields (date of birth, FL driver's license number, last 4 digits of Social Security number) which she hopes might be used as alternatives to the SAVE requirement to furnish "unique identifiers", such as "alien registration numbers or naturalization certificate numbers" when cross-checking against the SAVE database.
February 17, 2012 - Secretary of State Browning, who had declined to carry out the systematic voter removal program requested by Gov. Scott, resigns. He is replaced by Scott's appointee, Ken Detzner.
February 21, 2012 - Matthews sends an email to Roth, repeating the alternative fields Florida hopes to use in order to access SAVE. Her new email adds that some FL records might also include race and an individual's state or country of birth.
February 28, 2012 - Matthews emails Roth: "By the way, we have a new Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, who…is very interested to know what DHS can offer and what we can establish."
March 5, 2012 - Nearly five months after conceding her department did not have access to the "unique identifiers" required for governmental agencies to access SAVE, Matthews checks in again with Roth to see if DHS has any new updates on the matter. She notifies Roth that she'll be meeting with Detzner two days later, on Wednesday, March 7.
March 6, 2012 - Roth replies to Matthews on behalf of the DHS, reiterating that little has changed. The agency still requires a numerical value in order to use the SAVE database for cross-checking citizenship status of registered Florida voters, just as Matthews had originally acknowledged the state could not do in her October 24, 2011 email.
"As we discussed," Roth explains in his reply, "we will need an 'A number' [alien registration number] and Natz [Naturalization] Certificate number before we can verify a status in SAVE."
March 6, 2012 - Matthews responds to Roth an hour later, claiming, for the very first time in the months long email thread, that the state's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) driver's license database does, in fact, employ some numerical immigration information. She asserts the state would be able to cross-check voter files with DHSMV records and then use the numerical alien registration numbers from those records, where they exist, to cross-check the files with SAVE. This is the first known admission from the Florida Dept. of State that they may have access to any of the "unique identifiers" long requested by DHS for access to SAVE.
March 8, 2012 - Matthews sends another email to Roth, noting: "I don't recall if I had said that we would be able to get the alien registration number or admission number as made available from [DHSMV]."
Those two instance that week are the very first known documented instances of FDOS informing DHS officials they might be able to get access to at least some of the information required to access SAVE. (As it turns out, the DHMSV had already been accessing the database as part of its own driver's license process as of January of 2010, according to another lawsuit against Florida's voter purge filed by the ACLU in early June of 2012.)
May 9, 2012 - Sec. of State Detzner formally announces the initiation of a "New Initiative to Remove Non-citizens from Florida Voter Rolls."
May 16, 2012 - The deadline mandated by the National Voting Rights Act of 1993 (NVRA). With certain limited exceptions, not here applicable, all state programs to "systematically remove the names of ineligible voters" must be "completed" 90 days prior to a federal election. The next scheduled federal election in FL is the Aug. 14 primary.
May 17, 2012 - DHSMV Director of Motorist Services Boyd Walden says his agency will begin running the list of 180,000 potential non-citizens through the SAVE database within the next few weeks.
FDOS Communications Director Chris Cate complains that "DHS will not give us direct access to their database but we are very grateful for our state partners at highway safety who understand the importance of having accurate voter rolls."
May 31, 2012 - T. Christian Herren, Chief of the Voting Section of the DoJ's Civil Rights Division submits a letter to Detzner in which he describes the purge as "a program to systematically remove...potentially ineligible voters." He cites Section 8(c)(2)(A) if the NVRA, which, with limited exceptions not here applicable, provides that a "State shall complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for Federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters."
May 31, 2012 - Detzner sends a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano [PDF], stating:Our state partner, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), has access to the SAVE database and explored the possibility of using SAVE to update their information about the potential non-citizens, which would have given us the confirmation we need to identify ineligible voters. However, the agreement between your agency and DHSMV to continually update their records, leaving my department, again, without a means to obtain directly or indirectly the information we need and are entitled to receive.
June 6, 2012 - Detzer sends a blistering response [PDF] to Herren at DoJ, stating [emphasis added]:For nine months, Florida has sought access to the best available information to ensure the accuracy of our voter registration rolls...SAVE...maintained by the...DHS. Because DHS has repeatedly blocked Florida's access, we have been unable to send additional supervisors of elections since April 30, 2012.
June 6, 2012 - Thomas J. Rooney (R-FL-16), a GOP Deputy Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, declared in an angry letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder [PDF] that the entire matter was part of a federal conspiracy to help Obama win re-election through voter fraud in the Sunshine State.
June 8, 2012 - The ACLU files a federal lawsuit [PDF] seeking a court order that would enjoin FL officials from carrying out an "illegal" purge. The ACLU alleges that Detzner was relying upon a DHSMV database that he knows is incapable of establishing non-citizenship because the DHSMV did not require documents, such as Naturalization Certificates, for individuals seeking new or renewed driver's licenses until 1/1/10.
Named plaintiff, Murat Mirage, for example, last updated his driver's license on 11/6/08. He was naturalized on 10/19/10, yet received a 3/13/12 letter from the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections advising him that his name would be removed from the rolls unless he requests an administrative hearing within 30 days, and presents proof of citizenship at that time.
June 11, 2012 - U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez sends a letter [PDF] to Detzner in which he states:DHS explained to you as early as October 2011, the SAVE Program can verify these individuals only if unique identifiers, such as alien registration numbers or certificate numbers found on immigration-related documents (such as Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship) are provided. We understand to ensure accurate verification of current status, and as a general requirement applied to all users of the program, the SAVE Program does not allow verification based on name and/or date of birth alone. We further understand that, as a general requirement applied to all users of the program, SAVE also requires users to submit copies of the immigration-related document if needed to complete the verification process.
To our understanding, the [FDOS] admitted to DHS nearly eight months ago that the Division of Elections does not collect any of the immigration-related numeric identifiers or documentation that DHS has advised would be necessary to participate in the SAVE Program; although much more recently, your office has suggested that in some cases, this information may be available from records originally collected by the [DHSMV] at the time of driver's license application.
Perez reminds Detzner that the systematic purge violates the NVRA, demands that it immediately cease, and ends the correspondence by stating, "I have authorized the initiation of an enforcement action against Florida in federal court."
June 12, 2012 - Gov. Scott advances the "refused access" canard when he was interviewed by Neal Cavuto on Fox "News".
June 12, 2012 - Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Director of the U.S. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS], the division of DHS responsible for maintaining the SAVE Program sends a letter [PDF] to Detzner in which Mayorkas reminds the FL Sec. of State that his department explained to FDOS "as early as October 2011, the SAVE Program can verify naturalized and derived U.S. citizens and the status of non-citizens only if unique identifiers, such as alien registration numbers or certificate numbers found on immigration-related documents are provided."
Mayorkas also points out that the SAVE database is confined to "naturalized U.S. citizens, U.S. citizens born abroad who derived citizenship from U.S. parentage...and the immigration status of defined categories of non-citizens." The SAVE database does not include U.S. citizens "born in the United States," who, according to the 2010 census [PDF] account for nearly 87% of U.S. residents.
Mayorkas adds:USCIS has continuously expressed its willingness to work with Florida regarding possible SAVE Program participation, provided Florida is able to do so consistent with the SAVE Program’s mandate and the conditions USCIS has lawfully placed on all SAVE Program participants. To date, Florida has not complied with these requirements.
June 12, 2012 - Florida files a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington DC, ostensibly seeking a court order compelling DHS to provide the state with access to the SAVE Program, which access, the complaint alleges, had been unlawfully "refused". Although the relevant email acknowledgments from FDOS Asst. General Counsel Maria Matthews are appended to the legal filing, one would never know from reading the body of the 17-page complaint that there was so much as an issue as to the need for "unique identifiers". That, despite the fact that FDOS knew and acknowledged at least as early as October 2011 that DHS regarded those "unique identifiers" as a condition precedent to accessing SAVE.
June 12, 2012 - The DoJ files a lawsuit [PDF] in U.S. District Court, Northern District of FL (Tallahassee) seeking an order enjoining the purge of "potential non-citizens" on the grounds that it amounts to a program systematically removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of the next federal election in violation of the NVRA.
Like the ACLU, the DoJ complaint alleges FL officials are knowingly relying upon an "outdated and inaccurate database" that has put "U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote" at risk of being disenfranchised; that this has included not only recently "naturalized U.S. citizens" but also "native-born citizens, including decorated combat veterans who served in the United States Armed Forces."
June 12, 2012 - Scott tells CNN: "Homeland Security has been stonewalling to give us a database we're entitled to. We've been asking for months. We were put into a position where we had no choice but to sue Homeland Security."
June 13, 2012 - When interviewed by NPR's Michelle Martin, Scott says [emphasis added], "For whatever reason, Homeland Security, for the last year, has decided not to give it to us. So we were put in a position that we had to sue them to get that database."
June 19, 2012 - Sec. of State Detzner sends a scathing letter [PDF] to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, taking issue with Mayorkas' 6/12/12 assertion that FL has never been able to provide the "unique identifiers" that the SAVE Program requires. "As explained to USCIS several months ago", Detzner writes, FDOS "has access to the alien registration numbers and immigration-related documents contained in DHSMV's database."
Detzner goes on to note, that "DHSMV…is a registered user of the SAVE Program and uses legal status to verify eligibility for state driver's licenses. If these 'unique identifiers' are sufficient for DHSMV's use of the SAVE Program, the same information should be sufficient for FDOS's use of the SAVE Program."
He charges that "DHS has blocked Florida's access to the SAVE program."
"For nearly a year," he adds, "Florida has been prepared to comply with all of the generally applicable conditions of the SAVE Program. Nonetheless, USCIS has been generally non-responsive and has failed to specifically identify any conditions that Florida has not satisfied. ... These delays have significantly prejudiced Florida's ability to fulfill its legal obligation to verify that its voter registration rolls are current and accurate."
June 27, 2012 - U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle denied the DoJ's motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO). The request was moot given that "the state was no longer doing it."
CBS Miami reported that the "[a]ttorneys representing Florida secretary of state Ken Detzner argued the federal government request was not needed because the purging had been stopped."
The account provided by CBS affiliate, Wink News, suggests that Hinkle ruled that federal laws prevent states from removing eligible voters this close to the election, but stated that the law was, as reported by Wink News, "not designed to block voters who should have never been allowed to cast ballots in the first place." That report also states that Judge Hinkle added: "Questioning someone's citizenship unnecessarily is not as trivial as the state would have it."
Think Progress argues that, "assuming the AP report is accurate, Judge Hinkle is simply wrong"; that Section 8 expressly bars states from conducting "any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters" within 90 days of a federal election, with limited exceptions not here applicable.
As The BRAD BLOG, has not, as yet, obtained access to a transcript of Judge Hinkle's bench decision, we are not able, at this point, attest to the accuracy of these reports. Often, during the course of oral arguments, a judge will make remarks about aspects of a pending motion that the court finds troubling. That may be all that was involved in Judge Hinkle's remarks about the scope of the NVRA 90-day, pre-election proscription against systematic voter removal programs.
A TRO is ordinarily granted only where there is a risk of irreparable harm and the order is necessary to preserve the status quo. The reported statement that Detzner's attorneys that the state is not carrying out the purge at this time eliminated the need for a TRO. Thus, contrary to what may be an erroneous assumption by an AP reporter, Judge Hinkle's denial of the TRO may not represent a denial on the merits of the DoJ's case.
If so, and if FL, despite the representations of his legal counsel, proceeds with the purge, Judge Hinkle, at the DoJ's request, may have to revisit the issue.
June 27, 2012 - Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) informed Brad Friedman, during an interview on KPFK, that he is not aware of anyone having seen any documentation confirming the 100 plus non-citizens whom Scott and Detzer claim they’ve discovered as a result of the purge process.
In emails, The BRAD BLOG repeatedly asked both the Governor's office and FDOS to explain how they have been able to verify that these voters are indeed "non-citizens"; whether it was based on admissions and actual documentation or simply assumed whenever a voter does not timely respond to a notice of potential ineligibility.
To date we have not received a response, though a Miami reporter advised us that his newspaper believes it has confirmed three (3) non-citizens, one of whom was believed to be a schizophrenic.
June 27, 2012 - On his official website, Gov. Scott not only repeated the "blocked access" canard on his official website, but went so far as to falsely claim that the denial of the DoJ's request for a temporary restraining order had shifted "the burden on the federal government to provide Florida with access to [the SAVE] database"
For full details on the above, see The BRAD BLOG's 6/25/2012 exclusive report here. This timeline will be further updated as the controversial purge continues.