MIAMI (MCT) — Bill Internicola was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., 91 years ago and received a Bronze Star for fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, but according to the state of Florida he might not be a U.S. citizen.
Internicola received a letter in May from the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office stating that it had received “information from the State of Florida that you are not a United States citizen; however you are registered to vote.”
The letter was part of a controversial state-led effort to rid the voter rolls of noncitizens. Similar letters were sent to 259 Broward voters.
Internicola said he was “flabbergasted” by the suggestion that he wasn’t a citizen. He called the county’s election office and said, “Are you crazy?”
Internicola told his story at a news conference Tuesday, joined by two Democratic members of Congress, Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings. The Democratic lawmakers say Internicola is an example of Gov. Rick Scott’s “misguided” effort to purge legal voters from the rolls before this year’s presidential election.
Internicola said he sent Broward a copy of his Army discharge papers. He is one of six voters on the list who have provided paperwork to prove they are citizens, said Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for the supervisor.
Broward was following the direction of the state Division of Elections, which initially identified roughly 180,000 potential noncitizens by searching a computer database from the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But the driver’s license list doesn’t automatically update when someone becomes a citizen.
The state whittled that list to more than 2,600 voters and sent those names to the counties’ election supervisors. A Miami Herald analysis of the list found that it was dominated by Democrats, independents and Hispanics. The largest number were from Miami-Dade, home to the state’s largest foreign-born population.
In Miami-Dade, 359 voters have provided proof that they are citizens. The county determined on its own that an additional 26 were citizens, while 10 others either admitted they were ineligible or asked to be removed from the voting rolls.
Voters have 30 days from the receipt of the letter to provide documentation of citizenship or they will be removed from the rolls.
Any effort to remove names from Broward’s voting rolls draws particular scrutiny because it is the most Democratic county in the state. It has more than 500,000 registered Democrats and could play a pivotal role in the outcome of a close presidential or U.S. Senate contest in November.
Deutch called Internicola an “American hero” and described him as “the face of Gov. Scott’s request to purge our voter rolls.”
Internicola said he was born in Brooklyn to an American-born mother and Italian-immigrant father. He traveled to several countries in Europe during World War II, working as a medic where his nickname was “Pepsi” — since his last name ends with “cola.” He got married, worked as a vice president of a restaurant chain in New York, had a son and daughter, and said he moved to Florida in the 1980s.
Broward voting records show that Internicola registered in 1991 and has been a frequent voter — including the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections — and in at least a couple of municipal elections. He is a lifelong Democrat.
Internicola admitted to one discrepancy in records. He says he was born in 1921, though he said his drivers’ license indicates 1919. The reason: In his youth he wanted to start driving early, so “I bent the truth a little bit.”
Hastings said the state was engaging in “voter suppression” and using a “back-door poll tax” by not sending a pre-stamped envelope to voters to mail back their proof of citizenship.
Deutch and Hastings wrote a letter to Scott on Tuesday questioning the timing of the voter roll drive, three months before the primary.
“Providing a list of names of questionable validity — created with absolutely no oversight — to county supervisors and asking that they purge their rolls will create chaotic results and further undermine Floridians’ confidence in the integrity of our elections,” stated the letter, which was also signed by Florida Democratic representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Corrine Brown and Kathy Castor. They asked Scott to “immediately suspend the purge of voter registration lists” to “ensure not one Floridian finds his or her legitimate voting rights callously stripped away.”
Chris Cate, a spokesman for the state Division of Elections, defended the state’s effort. “It’s very important we make sure ineligible voters can’t cast a ballot,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.
He said the state continues to identify ineligible voters and that the Division of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has agreed to update information using a federal database that the elections division could not access directly.
“We won’t be sending any new names to supervisors until the information we have is updated, because we always want to make sure we are using the best information available,” Cate wrote. “I don’t have a timetable on when the next list of names will be sent to supervisors, but there will be more names.”
(Marc Caputo contributed to this report.)