Florida May Purge Voter Rolls of Noncitizens, Judge Says

Florida election officials were allowed by a federal judge to continue purging 198 people that the state has determined aren’t U.S. citizens from voter registration rolls.

U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch in Fort Lauderdale ruled yesterday in a lawsuit filed in June by a labor union, two voters and four voter-protection groups. The plaintiffs claimed the state violated a federal law prohibiting states from purging rolls within 90 days of a federal election.

“The court finds no reason to conclude that the 90-day provision applies to anything other than removals of registrants based on a change in residence,” Zloch said his 24-page ruling.

Voter access in the state has been the source of several lawsuits as Florida is a so-called swing state that both presidential campaigns believe they can win. Florida, with 29 electoral votes, combines with Pennsylvania and Ohio to make up almost 25 percent of the 270 needed to secure the presidency. In 2000, the presidential race between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore was decided by 537 votes out of almost 6 million cast in Florida.

There are at least 15 cases pending nationwide over voter registration and identification and limits on early voting. Much of the litigation stems from revisions of election procedures Republican lawmakers passed after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008. Proponents argue the laws are needed to prevent fraud and help elections run smoothly. Democrats and voter advocacy groups claim the measures are aimed at disenfranchising probable Democratic voters in a veiled effort to limit turnout for Obama.

Florida List

Florida initially instructed the elections supervisors in all 67 counties to verify that 2,600 people on the voting rolls were citizens. The list the state gave the supervisors was compiled from drivers’ license records and included many people who had become citizens after they got their licenses. The two individual voters who sued were among the citizens on the earlier, longer list.

“This court’s decision ignores the law that Congress wrote based on a policy view of what the court believed Congress should have written,” said Marc Goldman, an attorney for the plaintiffs. Goldman said there are other co-counsel in the case and a decision hasn’t been made as to whether to seek an emergency appeal.

In August, the state agreed to check the voting rolls against a U.S. Department of Homeland Security database that is more up to date.

Ineligible Voters

“We’re very pleased another federal court has ruled that Florida’s efforts to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls are lawful and in the best interest of Florida voters,” Ken Detzner, Florida’s secretary of state, said in an e-mailed statement. “Ensuring ineligible voters can’t cast a ballot is a fundamental aspect of conducting fair elections.”

At an Oct. 1 hearing, Goldman told Zloch that the risk of eligible voters being purged in the program was “too high.”

Dale Richard Ewart, vice president of a union representing 25,000 Florida health-care workers, said three of its members wrongly appeared on the first purge list. He testified Oct. 1 that the union feared the purge would discourage citizens from voting.

Florida argued that noncitizens don’t have any constitutional voting rights.

The parties in a similar lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department in Tallahassee last month asked to put that case on hold until after the Nov. 6 general election. The judge in that case rejected a request for a preliminary injunction on June 28 because the state had abandoned the program.

The case is Arcia v. Secretary of State, 12-cv-22282, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Ft. Lauderdale).

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