In an attempt to clear the voter rolls of noncitizens, a move that had set off criticism and a threatened lawsuit, Florida election officials decided on Thursday to use information from a federal database to check a list of 182,000 voters who they suspect are not citizens, officials said. Since last year, the Florida Division of Elections had sought access to the immigration database, which is maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, but the department said there were legal and technical difficulties in sharing the information. On Thursday, the elections division asked the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which oversees driver’s licenses and originally compiled the list of 182,000 names, to use its access to the federal database to update its records and cross-check the names. … The state’s attempt to scrub registration rolls of illegal voters had come under fire because of the timing — less than seven months before a presidential election — and because the state itself could not guarantee the accuracy of its rolls.
The move comes amid other efforts by Florida’s Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to tighten voter registration and reduce the number of early voting days, to combat potential voter fraud. Those measures, which were approved in 2011, have been challenged in court. Florida has more than 11 million registered voters.
The Division of Elections began the review of voters in April 2011 when it learned it had access to the driver’s license database and its citizenship information, Mr. Cate said. Since 2010, Floridians have been required to provide proof of citizenship or legal status when they apply for a driver’s license. But problems arose because some people become citizens after receiving a license. The agency’s database does not reflect those kinds of changes until a person tries to renew a driver’s license. The push to crack down on the way Floridians vote, and how they register to vote, is viewed by some as an effort to single out Democratic voters, many of them black and Hispanic. Florida has been accused in past elections of unfairly trying to remove from the rolls former felons who are eligible to vote.