Florida residents erroneously purged from voter rolls after being identified as non-citizens will be able to cast ballots in the November election, the state said.
Florida’s Department of State said yesterday it will alert voters who were improperly removed, or wrongly told they would be removed, that they can vote. The government’s announcement followed a legal complaint by civil rights and other groups objecting to the purge.
The state originally identified more than 2,600 potential non-citizens on the rolls at the direction of Republican Governor Rick Scott. Of those, it has found about 207 voters who are non-citizens and shouldn’t be allowed to cast ballots, said Chris Cate, a Florida Department of State spokesman. Any of the remaining 2,400 voters who were told they would be removed from the rolls will now be alerted that they can vote, he said.
There are about 11.5 million voters in Florida, the biggest electoral prize among states viewed as competitive by campaigns for Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The past three presidential races in Florida have been decided by 5 percentage points or less. Obama and Romney have traded the lead in Florida polls this year.
Legal challenges are playing out in courts around the country over state voter regulations that advocacy groups say will suppress turnout, including requiring certain forms of identification.
The Florida decision came after a lawsuit filed against the state in federal court in Miami by two voters and five groups alleging discrimination against Hispanic and black voters.
Groups that sued included Miami-Dade County-based civic group Veye Yo; Florida Immigrant Coalition Inc. and Florida New Majority, nonprofit organizations; National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, a Pennsylvania nonprofit group; and labor union 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
The state’s initial process for identifying non-citizens, which used information from driver’s licenses, was questioned by voter rights groups and some county supervisors who said the data was unreliable and mostly targeted Hispanics. Florida abandoned that identification process before receiving access to federal immigration data in July.
The state’s decision is a “historic milestone,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Washington-based Advancement Project, a civil rights group whose lawyers filed the complaint against Florida.
“It will ensure that naturalized citizens, the majority of whom are Latino, black and Asian, have the same opportunities as all Americans to participate in our political process,” Browne Dianis said about the state’s announcement.
The plaintiffs dropped parts of their lawsuit after the state said it would reinstate voters and notify them.
The groups amended their complaint yesterday, saying the new state process violates the National Voting Rights Act because residents would be removed from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election.
A similar suit filed against the state by the U.S. Justice Department is pending in federal court in Tallahassee. The state’s process has also drawn a lawsuit from American Civil Liberties Union, which argues in federal court in Tampa that the state should have received pre-approval for the changes from the federal government under the Voting Rights Act. The act requires Florida to get permission for any changes in election rules in five counties with a history of discrimination against minorities.
Cate defended Florida’s efforts to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls.
“Florida right now is being a national leader in identifying non-citizens,” Cate said. “We hope that the efforts we put into it to get to this point, other states are going to be able to see and use in their own states.”