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June 01, 2012

Justice Department Demands End to Florida Voter Purge

Posted in: Uncategorized

Late Thursday night, the Justice Department fired off a letter to the Secretary of State of Florida, Ken Detzner, asking that he put a stop to the purging of voter rolls that could leave hundreds if not thousands of legal US citizens stripped of their right to vote.

The Justice Department sent a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner Thursday evening demanding the state cease purging its voting rolls because the process it is using has not been cleared under the Voting Rights Act, TPM has learned.

DOJ also said that Florida’s voter roll purge violated the National Voter Registration Act, which stipulates that voter roll maintenance should have ceased 90 days before an election, which given Florida’s August 14 primary, meant May 16.

Five of Florida’s counties are subject to the Voting Rights Act, but the state never sought permission from either the Justice Department or a federal court to implement its voter roll maintenance program. Florida officials said they were trying to remove non-citizens from the voting rolls, but a flawed process led to several U.S. citizens being asked to prove their citizenship status or be kicked off the rolls.

This aligns with the wishes of a coalition of Florida Congressional Democrats, who wrote to the state asking for the voter purge to be stopped, as well as independent lawsuits which cite the violation of the National Voter Registration Act. The pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act would only affect the five counties under its jurisdiction, but the NVRA applies for all of Florida.

The full letter can be found here. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, which under the Obama Administration has been far more aggressive in rooting out civil rights violations, sent the letter. They seek a response by next Thursday, June 6.

A spokesman for the Florida Department of State tells Think Progress that “We just received the letter from DOJ this evening, and haven’t had a chance to thoroughly review it. Bottom line is we are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot.” Keep in mind that Detzner is the second Secretary of State under Rick Scott; the first, Kurt Browning, resigned in January, possibly because of the numerous changes to voting rights laws engineered by Scott. One of them, an election law that included hardships for independent voter registration drives, was just overturned yesterday by a federal judge.

I should add that the DoJ letter refers to “news reports” that alerted them to the voter purge scheme. Think Progress in particular should be commended for bringing this issue to light. Practically all of the traditional media ignored it; the New York Times, even today, gives it short shrift at the end of a story on the judge’s ruling on voter registration suppression. It took progressive media to raise awareness of this scheme to take away the voting rights of thousands of Floridians, part of a larger war on voting being attempted in Republican legislatures across the country. Scott, following in the footsteps of Jeb Bush, thought he could get away with it. He still might. But the DoJ is clearly preparing to fight them on it, and that would not have happened without a media willing to blow the whistle.

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