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Florida Judge Rejects U.S. Bid to Block Voter-Roll Purge

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Governor Rick Scott. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. government’s effort to block a Florida measure that seeks to remove non-citizens from voter rolls was rejected by a federal judge who found the state has already abandoned the program.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee, the state capital, wrote in his ruling that there were “major flaws” in Florida’s program. The judge rejected one argument the U.S. made, contending the program violated a provision of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, while agreeing that Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner “probably ran afoul” of another provision of the act.

“In this circuit a government entity that has discontinued a challenged conduct enjoys a rebuttable presumption that the conduct will not recur,” Hinkle wrote. “If the secretary or the supervisors of elections go forward with the program the secretary says he has abandoned, the issue can be revisited.”

On June 11, Florida sued the U.S. Homeland Security Department to gain access to a database that it said will allow the state to verify the citizenship and immigration status of individuals to purge non-citizens from voter rolls.

Hinkle’s ruling “puts the burden on the federal government to provide Florida with access to the Department of Homeland Security’s citizenship database,” Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, said yesterday in a statement.

Scott’s spokesman, Lane Wright, and Chris Cate, a spokesman for Detzner, didn’t immediately return calls and e-mails asking whether the state had abandoned the program.

Warning Letter

The U.S. filed its suit June 13 after warning Florida in a letter that its program to identify ineligible voters may violate federal law, including the law requiring a review of changes to voting practices in states with a history of racial discrimination.

Scott has defended the purge as a means of fighting voter fraud. Florida Democrats have assailed it 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 general election.

Nanda Chitre, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said yesterday that the government will review the written decision when it’s issued, and declined to comment further.

The case is U.S. v. State of Florida, 12-cv-00285, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida (Tallahassee).

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