LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - This election, the State of Florida has made a major push to remove all non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls. But that doesn't mean those who should not be voting aren't being asked to register.
Kathy Ruhlmann of Lehigh Acres has been a resident of the United States for ten years. "I work here, I pay my taxes, I have all the privilege, I love this country," Ruhlmann said.
She's not yet a citizen, but plans to become one. "It is a privilege to vote. To vote, you have to be a citizen and I understand that," Ruhlmann said.
But two weeks ago, Kathy opened her mailbox to find a driver's license renewal form and a voter registration application. She knew better than to try to register and risk a felony, but worries a mistake by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, or FLHSMV, could cause others to make an even bigger mistake.
"I just think that they shouldn't send those kinds of letters to resident people," Ruhlmann said. "They should be aware. They have a database. Update it and check everything."
This fall, Florida Supervisors of Elections received names of those who may have registered to vote illegally, part of the state's renewed efforts to remove non-citizens from voting rolls. So, why would a non-citizen be asked to register?
"Lately, we've been getting a lot of those," Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington said.
According to Harrington, voter registration forms can accidentally be included with drivers license renewals from the FLHSMV. Special interest groups mail them as well. But, just the act of registering illegally could carry a penalty of up to $5,000 or 5 years in prison.
"It gets very confusing for them and I think it is an issue that will need to be addressed," Harrington said. "Those who are here and would eventually like to get citizenship, it is a black mark against them if they do anything like this, so we want to make sure that doesn't happen to spoil their goal of eventually becoming citizens."
When in doubt, call the Elections office. Kathy Ruhlmann is looking forward to her first chance to vote legally.
"I think that you have to do the right thing all the time," Kathy Ruhlmann said.
UPDATE: We contacted the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles about this issue. A spokesperson tells us they include the voter registration applications as a convenience to license-holders, and do not have a system to differentiate between citizens and non-citizens. They say non-citizens should be able to read on the form that they are not eligible to register to vote.