Florida Refuses to Stop Voter Purge

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

(The Root) — Last week the U.S. Department of Justice ordered Florida's Secretary of State Ken Detzner to halt the state's plan to purge thousands of registered voters from the voter rolls. Florida's database-matching process for deciding which residents are ineligible noncitizens had not been cleared with the Justice Department — a step that the agency argues is required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandates that states and counties with a history of voting discrimination (in Florida's case, five counties within the state) get federal permission to change election procedures. The Justice Department thusly called on the state to stop the purge and submit the procedure that it's using for federal review.


On Wednesday night the state of Florida officially responded to the request. In a letter (pdf) to the Justice Department, Detzner firmly maintained that Gov. Rick Scott will continue with the purge. As the Miami Herald reports:

In a sharply worded letter, Scott's administration claimed the Department of Justice doesn't understand two federal voting laws at the heart of the dispute and was protecting potentially illegal voters more than legal ones.

Florida also accused another federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security, of violating the law by denying Florida access to a federal citizenship database.

"This hardly seems like an approach earnestly designed to protect the integrity of elections and to ensure that eligible voters have their votes counted," said the letter, written by Scott's hand-picked secretary of state, Ken Detzner, a fellow Republican.

Detzner also submitted a list of four questions that he wants the DOJ to answer.

In tone and substance, the letter all but dares the Justice Department to sue Florida for allegedly violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), nicknamed "motor voter."

The Justice Department hasn't yet responded to the letter, but a lawsuit is certainly one possibility. However, the DOJ isn't the only camp calling Florida's purge into serious question. All 67 of Florida's county election supervisors responsible for doing the actual purging (many of whom are Republicans, by the way) have refused to comply with Gov. Scott's orders.

Local election officials in Florida, echoing the cries of legal challengers to the state's voter purge, say that the data used to identify people as noncitizens are flawed. Throughout the state, election supervisors have found that hundreds of people on the lists created by Scott's administration are, in fact, eligible voters.

As the Republican Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark wrote, "The accuracy of the voter registration database is of the utmost importance, and we will continue our efforts to ensure the information is current. However, we will not use unreliable data."

Judd Legum, editor-in-chief of Think Progress, which has interviewed several Florida election supervisors, says that Scott's fight has become more symbolic than practical. "The county elections supervisors aren't doing it, but Florida is still pressing ahead with their own effort," said Legum, who explained that under Florida law, only the election supervisors, not Scott, can remove people from the rolls. "But the legal fight is still important because they could change their mind at any time. It's just unclear what the impact of all of this is at this point."


Cynthia Gordy is The Root's senior political correspondent.

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