States using a federal immigration database to purge noncitizens from voter lists are starting to get results, which so far include few illegal voters.
In Florida, which was first to gain access to the database after fighting the federal government in court, an initial run of roughly 2,600 names has turned up "several" violators, according to a spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
"We are seeing that there are definitely noncitizens on the voter rolls, but we're still very early in this review process," says Chris Cate. A much larger list of suspected noncitizens soon will be fed through the database, Cate says. The list will be an updated version culled from cross-checking voter rolls and driver's license data, a method that produced about 180,000 names last year.
Colorado, which along with Florida was initially denied access to the database, says that an automated check of more than 1,400 names has flagged 177 people as possible noncitizens. Colorado has asked the Department of Homeland Security, which maintains the database, to assign a person to verify their status.
"For the moment, we have no confirmed noncitizens, but I would expect that most of those people would come back as noncitizens," says Andrew Cole, a spokesman for Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
Colorado also sent letters questioning the citizenship of more than 3,800 registered voters. Cole says 482 people have responded with proof of citizenship, and letters to about 1,000 others were returned undelivered due to wrong addresses.
Florida obtained access to the database nearly a month ago, and Colorado starting using it two weeks ago.
Voter purges are among several election-related efforts that Republican-led states and the Obama administration continue to dispute in courtrooms across the nation.
Republicans say the purges and other restrictions, such as photo identification requirements for voters, are intended to prevent fraud. Democrats argue that the measures are designed to suppress turnout among minorities and others who tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
Some of the states with the most aggressively tightened election laws, such as Florida and Texas, also have the largest Latino populations.
The purges are under way in about a dozen states, all of which have Republican election officials. They are using the DHS database to distinguish between foreigners in the United States on visas, green cards or other permits, and those who have become naturalized citizens and now have the right to vote.
The database, known as the SAVE system, or Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, contains information about immigrants who are in the country legally.
The states have drawn criticism for using flawed methods that ensnare more eligible than ineligible voters. Voting rights groups say list purges this soon before an election could leave too little time to find and correct errors on the rolls.
On behalf of a Latino civic group and two naturalized citizens, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against Florida, arguing that its use of the database must be approved by the federal government under the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters.
The ACLU cites a Miami Herald report that found that nearly 60 percent of the people on Florida's suspected noncitizens list are Latinos (who make up 13 percent of Florida's active registered voters).
The Department of Justice, which took separate court action to unsuccessfully block Florida's purge program, has filed a "statement of interest" in the case supporting the ACLU's complaint.
Florida officials have denied that the purge targets minorities. The state has filed a motion for dismissal, arguing that its purge program provides due process to voters and was approved by the Justice Department years ago.