-By Steve Bousquet and Carolyn Edds
May 23, 2012- TALLAHASSEE — As Florida scours its voter rolls in search of non-U.S. citizens, another form of purging continues: stripping felons of the ability to vote, including high numbers of Democrats and African-Americans.
In the first four months of 2012, election supervisors removed nearly 7,000 voters from the rolls following recent felony convictions. The system of regaining voting rights in Florida is so lengthy and strict that many will likely never vote again.
The Times/Herald analyzed state data that included the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, age and race of 6,934 purged voters from January through April. In Florida, a felony conviction means the loss of civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury or run for office.
According to the data, Democrats were three times more likely than Republicans to be removed. Blacks were almost as likely as whites to be removed (44 percent of those removed were white; 43 percent were blacks), while blacks make up 16 percent of the state's population.
"It's good news that only 7,000 voters committed new crimes out of almost 11 million voters statewide," said Reggie Garcia, a Tallahassee lawyer and clemency expert. "It's bad news that they are disproportionately African-American, Democrat and presumably males."
Democrats account for 51 percent of felons removed from the rolls so far this year and Republicans account for 17 percent. Voters of no party affiliation made up 23 percent and minor-party voters made up the rest.
Pockets of Tampa and Jacksonville are home to the most purged voters in 2012, according to voters' ZIP codes. Jacksonville, the state's largest city, accounts for 928 removals, about one of seven felons swept from the rolls, even though the rate of violent crime declined there by 3.3 percent from 2010 to 2011.
The system for removing felons from the Florida voter rolls is similar to that for noncitizens, who must respond to a certified letter within 30 days or face removal. Soon after taking office, Gov. Rick Scott asked the state's chief elections official, Kurt Browning, whether noncitizens were voting illegally in Florida.
Browning said Florida didn't screen voters for citizenship, but the voting application noted that lying about citizenship is perjury, punishable by up to five years in prison.
"He was concerned about noncitizens being registered and voting," said Browning, who has since resigned and is now a candidate for Pasco County school superintendent. "I don't want it portrayed that the governor was on some crusade to rid the rolls of noncitizens. We had a conversation. This was a concern of his, as it was mine, and still is."