For months, Florida Republicans have been trying to clamp down on illegal aliens improperly included on on voting lists.
It's part of a massive – and politically controversial – Republican effort to impose tough voter-identification measures. Democrats regard them as thinly disguised efforts to disproportionately disenfranchise the poor, African-Americans and Hispanics. Other Republican-controlled states are conducting similar culls.
But after months of searching, only one alien falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen has been caught, charged and convicted in Florida. It turns out he is a Canadian, a man who registered and voted in at least two presidential elections while masquerading as a citizen so he could also buy and "bear arms," that other right cherished by many Americans.
Josef Sever, 52, won't be voting in Florida this November, though. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 30 in federal court in Miami to multiple felony charges of falsely attesting to be a U.S. citizen and illegally voting. Three days after the Nov. 6 election, when Americans will choose between giving Barack Obama a second term or sending Republican challenger Mitt Romney to the White House, Mr. Sever will be sentenced.
He faces up to five years in prison before his long-running scam passing as a U.S. citizen ends with deportation back to Canada.
Republicans insist there's nothing partisan about the dragnet.
"The right to vote is a sacred right," Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott said in June, in defending the state's sweeping investigation of voter lists. "We gotta make sure a U.S. citizen's right to vote is not diluted."
That the effort has only netted Mr. Sever so far has led to some considerable lampooning of Mr. Scott by liberal commentators. Under pressure from the governor, the state's electoral officials had initially flagged more than 180,000 names (many of them Hispanic-sounding) for checking. All but 2,600 of those initially flagged – some of whom turned out to be not only citizens, but military veterans with service in Afghanistan and Iraq – were quickly determined to be bonafide citizens and restored to the voter rolls.
After further investigation, only one name – Mr. Sever's – was sent to law-enforcement authorities last spring. Six other "suspect" cases, in a state with more than 10 million names on the voters' list, are still being investigated.
Mr. Sever – who is white, of Austrian ancestry and became a Canadian citizen in 1979 – hardly fit the profile of Democrat-leaning Hispanic alien.
Stefan Kamph, a commentator for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, finds the irony delicious.
"Instead of seeing him as a criminal, the [Republican Party] should move to have Sever pardoned and hold him up on a pedestal," he wrote. "After all, he abandoned the universal health care and tasty maple syrup of the Commie-nadian provinces to move to Florida, buy guns, and participate in the glory of our God-given democracy."
"Unless," Mr. Kamph added, "he voted for Obama. Then boot his ass back over the border."
No one, save Mr. Sever, knows how he voted. But he did admit as part of the facts agreed in his guilty plea that he voted in presidential elections in both 2004 and 2008. He had registered to vote with "no party affiliation," according to court documents.
When first tracked down and interviewed by Department of Homeland Security investigators last spring, Mr. Sever admitted to lying about being a U.S. citizen both to vote and – four times – to buy firearms and obtain a "concealed carry" permit which allows him to carry a hidden weapon.
Last week, "Sever admitted that he was born in Austria, is a naturalized citizen of Canada, and has never been a U.S. citizen," according to court documents. Whether his plea included a bargain for sentencing is unknown. His lawyer, Daniel Ecarius, a public defender provided by the state, declined comment.
Falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen carries a five-year maximum sentence on the firearm infractions and a one-year sentence on the voting felonies.
U.S. Federal District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro set a sentencing date of Nov. 9. Judge Ungaro, an appointee of former president George W. Bush, is perhaps best known for a decision in which she ruled unconstitutional Mr. Scott's plan to test all state employees for illegal drug use.
In Mr. Sever's case, she set bail at $50,000 (U.S.). But the Canadian, described in court as unemployed, has so far failed to find the required bond.
Mr. Sever apparently has been in Florida for some time. "Public records indicate that he has lived in South Florida since at least 2004," said Michelle Alvarez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice in Florida.
Other Florida company name registration records suggest someone with the same name and a signature matching Mr. Sever's date back to 1998.
As a Canadian, he has an inalienable right, under Canada's Constitution, to return to Canada. It seems likely he will spend more time – perhaps several more years – in a Florida prison first.