Florida, DOJ Clash Over Voter Removal Efforts

Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida's attempts to remove ineligible voters from the rolls has drawn a rebuke from the Justice Department and set up a showdown between the state and U.S. government leading into November.

Gov. Rick Scott told WNDB radio in Daytona Beach Wednesday that the state plans to respond to the Justice Department's order that Florida cease all voter verification efforts because the process in use violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

According to the Voting Rights Act, Florida must obtain federal approval before making any changes affecting voting in Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties because of a history of minority-voting trouble in each area.

The Justice Department also notified the state that it was in violation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which requires all voter roll maintenance to stop 90 days before an election. In Florida's case, this should have been May 16, 90 days before this year's August 14 primary.

Some Republican lawyers in Tallahassee are arguing that because county officials are responsible for the recent roll maintenance, the federal statutes identified by the Justice Department are not applicable.

Democratic opponents of the purge say the recent effort amounts to voter suppression, and disproportionately affects minorities, specifically Hispanics, Florida's largest immigrant population. Sen. Bill Nelson even compared recent efforts to a similar 2000 purge, just before the general election kept some eligible voters from casting ballots.

"In the 2000 Florida election, at least 1,100 eligible voters were wrongly dropped from voting rolls in an attempt to purge a list of felons," Nelson wrote in a letter to Gov. Scott. "Many of those who were dropped showed up to vote and were told they could not. And in a presidential election decided by 537 votes, that erroneous purge may have been a factor."

Members of Gov. Scott's administration have countered that the efforts are solely to ensure that ineligible voters are unable to participate in the upcoming elections.

"We've been acting responsibly through this process," said Chris Cate, spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, to the Miami Herald. "And our letter will reiterate that while addressing the concerns raised by DOJ. We have continued our efforts to identify ineligible voters."

Update (6:35 p.m.):

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner in an official release Wednesday rejected Justice Department claims that recent attempts to remove ineligible voters from the rolls are in violation of federal law.

"The Department of State respectfully disagrees with DOJ's position," Detzner wrote. "The actions taken by Florida to identify and remove non-citizens from its voter rolls ensure that the right to vote of citizens is protected and is not diluted by the votes of ineligible persons."

Detzner posed four questions for clarification regarding the National Voters Registration Act for the Justice Department to respond to by June 11.

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