By IVAN MORENO
DENVER (AP) - Republican election officials who promised to root out voter fraud so far are finding little evidence of a widespread problem.
State officials in key presidential battleground states have found only a tiny fraction of the illegal voters they initially suspected existed. Searches in Colorado and Florida have yielded numbers that amount to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all registered voters in either state.
Democrats say the searches waste time and, worse, could disenfranchise eligible voters who are swept up in the checks.
"I find it offensive that I'm being required to do more than any other citizen to prove that I can vote," said Samantha Meiring, 37, a Colorado voter and South African immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in 2010. Meiring was among 3,903 registered voters who received letters last month from the Colorado Secretary of State's office questioning their right to vote.
Especially telling, critics of the searches say, is that the efforts are focused on crucial swing states from Colorado to Florida, where both political parties and the presidential campaigns are watching every vote. And in Colorado, most of those who received letters are either Democrats or unaffiliated with a party. It's a similar story in Florida, too.
Republicans argue that voting fraud is no small affair, even if the cases are few, when some elections are decided by hundreds of votes.
"We have real vulnerabilities in the system," said Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican elected in 2010 who is making a name for himself at home by pursuing the issue. "I don't think one should be saying the sky is falling, but at the same time, we have to recognize we have a serious vulnerability."
The different viewpoints underscore a divide between the parties: Are the small numbers of voting fraud evidence that a problem exists? Or do they show that the voter registration system works?
Last year, Gessler estimated that 11,805 noncitizens were on the rolls.
But the number kept getting smaller.
After his office sent letters to 3,903 registered voters questioning their status, the number of noncitizens now stands at 141, based on checks using a federal immigration database. Of those 141, Gessler said 35 have voted in the past. The 141 are .004 percent of the state's nearly 3.5 million voters.
Even those numbers could be fewer.
The Denver clerk and recorder's office, which had records on eight of the 35 voters who cast ballots in the past, did its own verification and found that those eight people appear to be citizens.
Kevin Biln, an Adams County resident on the list, said he didn't know he was registered and maintains that he's never voted. Another voter on the list, Erica Zelfand, a Canadian immigrant, said she's a U.S. citizen no longer living in Colorado. Robert Giron said he was furious that the 20-year-old daughter he adopted from Mexico was listed as having illegally voted. He said she went to the Denver clerk's office with her U.S. passport and other documents to prove her eligibility to vote.
To Pam Anderson, the clerk and recorder in Jefferson County in suburban Denver, the investigation proves what's already been her experience: Cases of noncitizens on the rolls are extremely rare.
Anderson said the fighting between the political parties over the perception of voter fraud also has less tangible consequences.
"It impacts people's confidence in elections, which is extraordinarily important," she said.
Florida's search began after the state's Division of Elections said that as many as 180,000 registered voters weren't citizens. Like Colorado and other states, Florida relied on driver's license data showing that people on the rolls at one point showed proof of non-citizenship, such as a green card.
Florida eventually narrowed its list of suspected noncitizens to 2,600 and found that 207 of them weren't citizens, based on its use of the federal database called SAVE, or the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements. The system tracks who is a legal resident eligible to receive government benefits.
Of the 2,600 initially marked as possible noncitizens, about 38 percent were unaffiliated voters and 40 percent were Democrats, according to an analysis by The Miami Herald.
The state has more than 11.4 million registered voters, so the 207 amounts to .001 percent of the voter roll.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Republican, said in a statement that the initiative "is already proving to be a successful process to identify illegally registered voters," which he noted is crucial in a state where the 2000 presidential election was decided by 537 votes.
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