Hillsborough County, Fla., elections supervisors raised red flags, and then federal authorities weighed in Thursday to demand the state of Florida halt its ongoing push to remove thousands of voters from the rolls.
The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter contending Florida's efforts to identify people who are not U.S. citizens violates federal voting laws.
Among county supervisors concerned about Florida's effort is Hillsborough's Earl Lennard, who said he considers a purge list developed by the state to be unreliable and won't use it to reject voters unless there is corroborating evidence.
Lennard, like other supervisors, said he has found voters on the state's list who are citizens.
Under normal procedures, voters on such a list would be removed from the rolls unless they responded to individual letters from the supervisor or to a newspaper legal ad.
Lennard said supervisors are bound by law to act on "any good, credible, reliable information we get" concerning ineligible voters on the rolls. The state's list, Lennard said, doesn't appear reliable.
The state Division of Elections had sent out an initial list of about 2,600 suspect voters and is working on a list of about 180,000 more. The state complained it can't get access to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database of non-citizens that could make its list more reliable.
Despite that, Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday during a visit to Tampa that he remains committed to the process of checking the state voter rolls and acknowledged he initiated the process over the objection of former Secretary of State Kurt Browning.
"It's the right thing to do to check and make sure" voters are legally registered, Scott said, speaking before the release of the federal letter.
"We want to make sure that people register to vote, they have the right to vote ... but we don't want people voting in elections that aren't entitled to vote."
Asked about proceeding with the purge against Browning's advice, Scott said, "I asked him, I said, 'Do we check to see if people have the right to vote in our state,' and that's how it started."
Browning has since resigned and is running for Pasco County school superintendent. He couldn't be reached Thursday for comment.
Federal officials say purge procedures the state is using have not been reviewed. Florida must get approval for changes in voting procedures because five of its 67 counties are still covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Justice Department letter also says removing voters from the rolls less than 90 days before a federal election violates federal law. The letter gives Florida until Wednesday to tell federal authorities whether they plan to halt the purge.
Several elections supervisors contacted by The Tampa Tribune on Thursday said they did find people who weren't citizens on the list but have also found errors. They have decided not to purge any voters based on the list unless they have other evidence.
"I think that's what most of the counties are doing," said Martin County Supervisor Vicki Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.
In a memo to the supervisors Thursday, Ron Labasky, counsel for the association, advised them "removal should only take place if you are absolutely certain the person is inappropriately on the rolls."
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