Federal Government, Florida Sue Eachother Over Voter Purge Program

Jun 11, 2012 5:53pm

Update (6:20 p.m.)

The Justice Department has sent a letter to the Florida Secretary of State regarding its voter list maintenance program informing the state that DOJ will seek court action to stop the purging of voter rolls in the State. The letter was sent in response to a letter from the Florida Secretary of State dated June 6, 2012.

“It appears that Florida has initiated a new program for systematic voter removal which may ultimately target more than 180,000 registered voters.” The letter from Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Tom Perez noted. “Your program has critical imperfections, which lead to errors that harm and confuse eligible voters.”

Florida has sued DHS seeking access to the Department’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program records. Perez in his letter notes, “Florida has been on notice for at least eight months that the SAVE program can verify naturalized and derived United States citizens only if Florida provided the appropriate numeric identifiers and where necessary, the underlying documentation.”

Citing the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act Perez letter concludes, “The federal statutes that the Department has called to Florida’s attention here are longstanding requirements of which the State is certainly aware. Because the State has indicated its unwillingness to comply with these requirements, I have authorized the initiation of an enforcement action against Florida in federal court.”

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The state of Florida today filed a suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, claiming the federal agency restricted access to information on people who might not be eligible to vote.

The suit indicates that Gov. Rick Scott will continue to defend Florida’s  controversial voter verification program, which the U.S. Department of Justice targeted earlier this month as being in violation of federal statutes.

“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 of State Detzner in a statement released today. “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.”

The controversy is positioning  Republican Gov. Scott’s administration against state Democrats in a deeply partisan debate that is sure to excite both sides of the electorate ahead of November’s election.

Lawyers for the state said DHS failed to provide access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program database, also known as SAVE, which contains information on potential ineligible voters in the state of Florida.

The Florida ACLU responded in a statement released shortly after the lawsuit was announced.

“The governor’s claim that he needs information from the Department of Homeland Security to justify his illegal purge of voters is an acknowledgement that he was using bad data and kicking eligible citizens off the voter rolls in the first place,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.

The Justice Department earlier this month ordered state officials to cease its current activities related to voter roll maintenance.

According to the order, Florida’s voter purge program is in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires that  the state obtain federal approval before making any changes affecting voting in Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties because of a history of minority-voting discrimination in each area.

The Justice Department also found Florida 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.

Detzner has rebuked these claims, saying, “”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.”

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