Florida on Friday defended its recent voter roll purge. The state has been criticized by several organizations and the Department of Justice for sending a list of 182,000 voters to all 67 supervisors of elections, requesting that people on the list who cannot prove their U.S. citizenship be removed from the voter rolls. A statement released Friday by Chris Cate, Communications Director at the Florida Department of State, defends the purge and explains why the state felt that it was necessary move.
In his statement, Cate said the decision to remove names from the list was essential for preventing non-citizens from casting ballots illegally. “The political party and race of the potential non-citizens is not a factor at all in our process,” Cate wrote. “We are only concerned about identifying ineligible voters and making sure they can’t cast a ballot.” The Florida board of elections steadfastly denies the action was discriminatory and explained that it was not meant to prevent minority voters from voting.
The voter purge came after republican Governor Rick Scott persuaded the state to identify non-U.S. citizens who had registered to vote illegally. The state then matched information from the Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles with names form the Florida Voter Registration system and flagged names of people who were ineligible to vote. After the investigation was completed the state claims it identified more than 100,000 non-eligible voters.
In a letter sent by the Justice Department Thursday to the Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Christian Herren, Chief of the Justice Departments voting section informed the state that Florida is required bring any changes in voter identification practices to the Attorney General in order that the federal government is able to insure that the new screening process did not violate section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against a group based on race, color or membership in a language minority group.
Under current law it is required that any change in voter registration laws be approved by the federal government prior to the implementation of the practice. It is also required under the National Voter Registration Act that any voter maintenance effort be conducted 90 days before an election. The Florida primary is August 16th therefore Florida’s deadline to submit these changes was May 16th. In addition, the state must also notify the federal government prior to purging voters from the system.
A legal precedent that might work in Florida’s favor is the fact that Florida is not changing their laws on what is required to become a registered voter, they are rather, cross checking their voter rolls with Florida’s Department of Highway Safety Motor vehicles. Analysts have said it is not immediately clear if the Department of Justice has any jurisdiction in that particular area.
The justice Department gave the state of Florida a June 6th deadline to inform the federal government of any continuing action they plan to take concerns matters of determining how to identify the sate eligible voters.