(June 15, 2012) Florida’s wrangling with the Department of Justice over its systematic purge of suspected non-citizens from the voter rolls is heading to court.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit June 12 against the state and its chief elections official in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, seeking a court order to halt the state’s plan to remove more than 182,000 suspected noncitizens from the books.
The complaint alleges the state’s removal of names from the voter registration roll violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). That law requires all voter roll maintenance to be completed within 90 days of an election. Florida has blown the deadline, since it has a primary election scheduled for Aug. 14.
Additionally, the Justice Department claims, Florida’s use of “inaccurate and unreliable voter verification procedures violates the requirement [of the act] that any such program be uniform and nondiscriminatory.”
Florida’s Department of State, which is responsible for elections, cobbled the list together by matching voter registration files with driver’s license data.
“Congress enacted the NVRA against a historical backdrop in this country in which purge programs initiated close to elections prevented and deterred eligible citizens from casting ballots,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez. “The 90-day quiet period in the NVRA protects eligible voters from being dropped from the rolls right before an election. It appears that Florida has undertaken a new program for voter removal within this 90-day period that has critical imperfections, which lead to errors that harm and confuse eligible voters.”
Concerns about the purge—which was initiated by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican—arose when a Miami Herald analysis revealed that minorities were being unfairly targeted.
Additionally, according to new reports, the initial list of 2,600 potentially ineligible voters contained the names of several U.S.-born and naturalized Americans.
Those mistakes occurred, state officials said, because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied them access to its database, which has more current immigration and citizenship information.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner filed suit against DHS June 11, saying the department had failed to meet its statutory obligation to provide access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program database to help ensure fair elections in the state.
"For nearly a year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has failed to meet its legal obligation to provide us the information necessary to identify and remove ineligible voters from Florida’s voter rolls,” said Secretary Detzner. “We can’t let the federal government delay our efforts to uphold the integrity of Florida elections any longer. We’ve filed a lawsuit to ensure the law is carried out and we are able to meet our obligation to keep the voter rolls accurate and current."