Civil rights groups file federal lawsuit over Florida voter purgeby Dara Kam | June 8th, 2012
A coalition of civil rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over a controversial non-citizen voter purge the Justice Department considers a violation of two federal elections laws.
The ACLU, the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges asked a three-judge panel in Tampa to stop Secretary of State Ken Detzner from continuing the scrub until the Justice Department decides whether it is permissible.
The purge, the brainchild of Scott, has sparked a national outcry and partisan divide over voting in the presidential battleground of Florida. And it’s created a tug-of-war between President Obama’s and Scott’s administrations.
Detzner in April sent elections supervisors lists of more than 2,600 potentially ineligible voters flagged by matching driver license records with the state’s voter registration database. More than half of those on the list – gleaned from a master list of more than 182,000 voters – had Hispanic-sounding surnames. Elections supervisors found that many of those targeted for removal were naturalized citizens, and backed away from the scrub last week.
Federal law requires “preclearance” of voting or elections changes in jurisdictions with a history of discrimination. Five counties in Florida – Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – require such preclearance.
But Detzner asked for the federal go-ahead for those counties before moving ahead with the purge, the lawsuit, filed on behalf of two Hillsborough County naturalized citizens and Mi Familia Vota, argues.
Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday told a Congressional committee that the purge appears to violate federal law prohibiting states from doing voter registration database maintenance 90 days before an election. That deadline passed on May 16 for Florida’s Aug. 14 primary. The Justice Department asked Detzner to stop the scrub, but Detzner this week told Holder’s office he believes President Obama’s administration is breaking the law by not giving the state access to a Department of Homeland Security database with current immigration information.
Murat Limage, a Haitian-American U.S. Citizen, and Pamela Gomez, who is a Dominican-American Hispanic U.S. Citizen, brought the suit along with Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to working with the Latino/Hispanic community to increase civic participation. Both Gomez and Limage are registered to vote in Hillsborough County.
Haitian-born Murat Limage, one of the plaintiffs in the case, registered to vote after becoming a naturalized citizen two years ago. Limage was one of the more than 2,000 voters who received written notice from local elections officials notifying him that he “may not be a U.S. citizen,” the lawsuit reads.
According to the lawsuit, Limage provided his U.S. passport and other citizenship documents to the Hillsborough County elections office but has not yet received confirmation that he will be allowed to vote.
“When I received the letter saying that they had information that I may not be a citizen, I was concerned that someone was taking away my citizenship,” Limage said in a press release announcing the lawsuit today. “I’m an American which means I can vote and that’s all I want to do.”