By Brittany Wallman and Kathleen Haughney
Using an American war veteran as the face of their cause, two South Florida congressmen called on the governor Tuesday to immediately stop the state's purge of the voter rolls.
And in a separate move, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson sent a letter to the governor expressing his own concerns about the voter purging.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, accused the Republican governor of using the roll cleanup as a ruse to disenfranchise voters just months before a presidential election.
Sitting in the retirement village in Davie where he lives, 91-year-old Bill Internicola listened Tuesday as Deutch read from a piece of his recent mail:
"The Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office has received information from the state of Florida that you are not a United States citizen; however you are registered to vote.''
Internicola said he was amazed and a little insulted when he read the letter. He earned the Bronze Star as a medic in the Battle of the Bulge, and was honored by France with its Chevalier Legion of Honour. His wife, Dolores, was indignant.
"Tell them only in Florida could this happen,'' she called out to her longtime husband at a news conference Tuesday.
The World War II Army veteran and lifelong Democrat was given 30 days to prove his citizenship or be stricken from the rolls. The letter he received was one of 2,600 sent to voters throughout the state in recent weeks, to keep non-citizens from participating in elections.
Another 52,000 people possibly dead were identified by the state as active voters, and local elections offices are purging them as well.
The targeting of non-citizens came directly from Gov. Rick Scott, The Associated Press reported last week, quoting former Secretary of State Kurt Browning.
Nelson, in his May 25 letter, cited the Browning revelation and told Gov. Scott that the public's "confidence in the right to vote is essential in a democracy.''
He said he was concerned about what he called the governor's "hunt'' for non-citizens, after "signing one of the nation's most controversial voting laws.''
The Republican-led Legislature last year overhauled election law, reducing early voting periods and tightening the rules for groups who register new voters. Democrats at the time said the changes would disenfranchise minorities and young voters.
The partisan bickering underscores the tense political atmosphere of a presidential election year in Florida. Though, 2,600 voters doesn't seem like a lot, the 2000 contest between George W. Bushand Al Gore was decided by 537 votes, a bit of history noted by the congressmen Tuesday and by Sen. Nelson in his letter.
And with presidential politics heating up, Florida is primed once again to be the center of attention. A Quinnipiac Poll released last week gave GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney a six point lead over President Barack Obama.
Scott, who didn't respond to the criticisms Tuesday, has come under intense scrutiny from several directions as the voter roll story made national headlines.
A coalition of voting groups wrote the governor last week saying that they had "deep concern" over the process and said that the system of matching it to other databases was "flawed."
"Voting is a fundamental, constitutionally guaranteed right," the coalition wrote. "As such it cannot be lightly withdrawn on the basis of a highly flawed and suspect process."
Hastings and Deutch said they're circulating a letter among their congressional colleagues in Florida to call on Gov. Scott to "stop the voter purge immediately.''
"It's sloppy, it's a hurried voter purge and it could have major consequences for Florida's election in November,'' said Hastings, hearkening back to what he termed the "stolen'' presidential election of 2000.