Justice Department To Sue Florida Over 'Non-citizen' Voter Purge
The U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of Florida to force it to stop purging its voter rolls of what it alleges are up to 180,000 non-citizen voters.
In a letter dated Monday, June 11, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez told Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner that he had authorized the Justice Department to initiate legal proceedings in federal court because Florida refused to stop a massive voter purge that already had mistakenly targeted legal voters. Perez said the voter purge, which Florida Gov. Rick Scott defended on television on Monday, violated two different federal voting rights laws.
Under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, no state can remove voters from voter lists within 90 days of a federal election. Florida holds its congressional primaries in early August. Additionally, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 bars numerous states and a handful of counties--with histories of racist behavior--from changing voting laws and procedures without federal approval. The Justice Department says the non-citizen purge is such a in policy.
The state, which has a Tea Party governor, is following in the footsteps of other GOP-controlled swing states -- notably Colorado, New Mexico and Michigan -- where top election officials have made outsized claims about non-citizens fraudulently voting on a massive scale. Even though there has been no proof of anything other than singular instances of improperly registered individuals, against a backdrop of millions of voters, the states have claimed that the federal government has a database of citizens that would vindicate the claims of non-citizen voting.
Florida told the Justice Department that the federal Department of Homeland Security was illegally withholding that data--a charge that Perez all-but called absurd in his letter to Detzner. Perez noted the DHS 'SAVE' database was used for limited immigration enforcement and would hardly be authoritative for voter registration purposes. Nonetheless, Perez said that Florida had failed to provide DHS with information that it required, including agreeing to limit the use of the SAVE data, saying, "the significant problems that you are encountering in administering this new program are of your own making."
It will be very interesting to watch how quickly the Justice Department moves against Florida. As Perez said in his letter, the VRA and NVRA have well-understood purposes that have been upheld time and time again by federal courts. Their intent is to protect legal voters, especially from new state-run initiatives that could mistakenly block legal voters from casting ballots.
Currently, the Justice Department is in court with a number of GOP-controlled states over new voter ID requirements and what it says are racially biased redistricting decisions following the 2010 Census. Suing over the alleged non-citizen purge would expand the portfolio of campaign year litigation.