DOJ joins lawsuit against Florida over voter purgeby Dara Kam | July 31st, 2012
The U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal three-judge panel to stop Gov. Rick Scott’s controversial voter purge as Florida is working with another of President Obama’s administration to revamp the process.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner had asked the Tampa-based judges to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that he stopped the flawed voter purge process in April. But on Friday, the two civil rights group that filed the lawsuit amended their complaint, making Detzner’s request moot. The state department is expected to revise its request for a dismissal.
The Department of Justice on Friday joined the two civil rights groups in the lawsuit, filing a “statement of interest” and asking the judges to refuse to dismiss the case filed by the ACLU of Florida and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in federal court in Tampa on behalf of two Hispanic voters and Mi Familia Vota.
The DOJ is fighting its own lawsuit against Scott over the controversial voter purge in a separate federal case in Tallahassee. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle handed Scott a victory late last month in that case, refusing to grant an emergency injunction halting the purge – already on hold – and noting that the scrubbing of the voter rolls, although problematic, did not appear to break the law. Hinkle, however, let the Tallahassee case proceed.
Detzner’s office technically halted the voter purge after an initial list of potential non-citizens flagged by matching driver license and voting records proved problematic. The list of about 2,600 potential non-citizens distributed to county supervisors wrongfully flagged voters who were naturalized citizens and even some U.S.-born voters.
After months of getting nowhere, Detzner finally got the Department of Homeland Security to grant access to the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or “SAVE,” database, and is again moving forward with the purge.
But the state hasn’t received the federal “preclearance” required for voting changes in five counties – Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – covered under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, the DOJ and the groups challenging the purge argued. The preclearance is required for some jurisdictions that have a history of discrimination against minorities.
“The State of Florida has adopted a new database matching program that results in registered voters being removed from the voter rolls,” Deputy Attorney General Eric Perez wrote in the statement of interest. “This new practice has not been submitted for administrative or judicial preclearance pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and despite a lack of preclearance, the change has been implemented in Florida’s covered counties subject to Section 5.”
The state needs to get preclearance for the five covered counties for the new database matching process before the purge can move forward, Perez wrote.