(June 5, 2012) – Florida will continue its purge of voter rolls, officials said, despite a Justice Department warning that the state was in violation of federal law.

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday defended the decision, saying it was a matter of fair elections.
“We need to have fair elections. When you vote, you want to make sure that the other individuals that are voting have a right to vote. That’s what I care about,” he said, according to the Miami Herald. “If you’re a candidate, you want to make sure that the people that vote in your election are people who have a right to vote. So my focus is in making sure that our state has fair elections. People who have a right to vote (can) vote. Because I don’t want to disenfranchise anybody in their voting rights.”

But many questioned the timing of the initiative just months before Florida plays a key role in the presidential election in November. In another question of timing, the DOJ pointed out that Florida had missed the May 16 deadline for voter registration maintenance—90 days before the state’s Aug. 14 primaries—which is required by the National Voter Registration Act. But Scott blamed the Obama administration for the setback, saying the Department of Homeland Security had denied them access to much needed immigration information that would help them weed out suspected noncitizens.

“We were waiting on the (U.S. Department of) Homeland Security database. So it just kept getting delayed. I’m responsible for the state, but my understanding is they just kept delaying it,” he said. “…There is no perfect time for doing any of these things. We just want fair elections. That’s what all of us want. This is not a partisan issue.”

Despite the governor’s stance, local elections officials are poised to halt their spring cleaning of the voter database—some never started. A lawyer for the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections advised counties to cease their removal of names until the Justice Department’s concerns were resolved, according to CNN.

“I recommend that Supervisors of Elections cease any further action until the issues raised by the Department of Justice are resolved between the parties or by a Court,” wrote legal counsel Ron Labasky in a June 1 letter.

Concerns about the purge—which was initiated by Gov. Scott, a Republican—arose when a Miami Herald analysis revealed that minorities were being unfairly targeted.

In its letter to the state sent last Thursday, the DOJ said that not only had Florida missed the deadline for completing its review of the voter rolls, but it had also failed to obtain federal preapproval for making changes in the elections laws and procedures as required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to the Act, Washington has far-reaching oversight in jurisdictions like Florida that have a history of voter discrimination. Five of Florida’s counties are covered under the Voting Rights Act.

Florida has until June 6 to respond to the DOJ’s letter. 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO