Florida Sued by ACLU Over Voter Purge Initiative

Florida was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union over the state’s effort to make some registered voters re-verify their citizenship or lose their ability to vote.

The U.S. Justice Department warned the state in a May 31 letter that the 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.

“The illegal program to purge eligible voters uses inaccurate information to remove eligible citizens from the voter rolls” Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU in Florida, said in an e-mailed statement.

Chris Cate, a spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on the suit, filed yesterday in federal court in Tampa.

The suit seeks a court order prohibiting Detzner from implementing the law without first seeking a review by a federal court in Washington or the U.S. Attorney General as required under federal election law, according to the complaint.

The law, a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, “prohibits changes in election practices or procedures in states and political subdivisions with a documented history of discriminatory voting practices until the new procedures have been determined” to not have the effect of denying the right to vote “on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group,” according to the complaint.

Harsh Limits

Separately, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee ruled May 31 that portions of a state voter law severely restrict registration drives and place harsh limits on groups that conduct them. Hinkle blocked requirements that voter-drive groups turn over completed materials to the state within 48 hours or face possible $1,000 fines. The two-day window, previously 10 days, makes no provision for mailing applications and serves little, if any, purpose, Hinkle said.

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

Civic Participation

The lawsuit was also filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP on behalf of Murat Limage, a Haitian-American U.S. Citizen, Pamela Gomez, a Dominican-American Hispanic U.S. Citizen, and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, a non-profit organization that aims to increase civic participation, according to the statement.

Limage, naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2010 received an April notice from Florida election officials telling him that he must provide proof of his citizenship or face possible removal from voter registration rolls, according to the complaint.

Gomez was naturalized in 2011 and “expects that her voter eligibility may be challenged” because election officials may rely on her driver’s license, obtained in 2006 and which doesn’t reflect her citizenship, according to the complaint.

The case is Mi Familia Vota Education Fund v. Detzner, 12-cv-1294, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida (Tampa).

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