Florida was sued by the U.S. over claims the state conducted a “systematic program to purge voters” from registration rolls in violation of federal election law.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 “expressly forbids” such removal programs during the 90-day period before federal elections, according to a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Tallahassee, Florida.
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.
“We have done all that we can in trying to reason with people in Florida,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday in Washington. “We are now prepared to go to court.”
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.
The next election in Florida, a primary that includes elections for federal office, is scheduled for Aug. 14, according to the complaint. The 90th day before that election was May 16, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit names Florida and its Secretary of State Ken Detzner as defendants.
“We understand the law differently than the Department of Justice,” Lane Wright, a spokesman for Scott, said in a phone interview. “The people we are removing are those non-citizens who were never eligible to be on the voter rolls in the first place.”
Wright said Scott’s office has “irrefutable evidence” that non-citizens are on voter registration rolls illegally and has verified more than 50 who voted in at least one previous election. “We haven’t removed one eligble voter,” Wright added.
On June 11, 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.
“We are disappointed that DOJ believes Florida must allow ineligible voters, specifically non-citizens, to remain on the voter rolls through the general election,” Chris Cate, a spokesman for Detzner, said in an e-mailed statement.
“We remain committed to ensuring the accuracy of Florida’s voter rolls, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is our statutory responsibility,” Cate said.
The case is U.S. v. State of Florida, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida (Tallahassee).