Florida Sues U.S. Over Database to Verify Citizenship

Florida sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over access to a database to verify the citizenship of residents as the state seeks to purge non- citizens from its voter rolls.

The complaint, filed today in federal court in Washington, claims Florida’s Department of State received information last year from the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles showing that non-citizens may be registered to vote in Florida.

The Department of Homeland Security has failed to provide information from a database -- the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program -- that Florida claims will permit it to verify citizenship and immigration status of individuals, according to the complaint.

“We can’t let the federal government delay our efforts to uphold the integrity of Florida elections any longer,” Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in an e-mailed statement. The lawsuit was filed to “ensure the law is carried out and we are able to meet our obligation to keep the voter rolls accurate and current.”

The U.S. Justice Department warned Florida in a May 31 letter that the state’s program to identify ineligible voters may violate federal law, including one aimed at reviewing voter limits in states such as Florida with a history of racial discrimination. The state responded by saying the initiative is valid.

Romney, Obama

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican who signed the registration law and ordered the purge, has defended both as a means of fighting voter fraud. Florida Democrats have assailed both as an effort to give presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney an advantage over President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in a swing state four months before the election.

Matthew Chandler, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, said the agency doesn’t respond to inquiries about pending litigation.

The case is Florida Department of State v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 12-cv-00960, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco at jrosenblatt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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