Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Florida election officials have identified 198 residents who may be illegally registered to vote, down from an 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of Republican Governor Rick Scott, had been halted after county election supervisors complained state data was out of date.
At least 39 of the 198 possible noncitizens have voted in previous elections, Cate said today. Illegally registering or voting is a third-degree felony, punishable by as much as five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, according to state law.
State authorities gave the new, reduced list to election supervisors and asked the county officials to remove anyone who failed to prove citizenship from the voter rolls, according to a letter from Maria Matthews, an election attorney.
“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 federal Voting Rights Act. One, brought by Mi Familia Vota Education Fund in U.S. district court in Tampa, asserts that the state must first seek approval from the government in Washington. Suits pending in Miami and Tallahassee contend that the state can’t remove voters from the rolls within 90 days of a national election.
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