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Federal court: Florida early voting changes could shrink number of black votes

Friday, August 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Associated Press reports that a federal court says a Florida law that restricts the number of early-voting days could result in a dramatic reduction in voting by blacks.

But the three-judge panel in Washington also upheld other portions of the law, including a requirement forcing voters to use a provisional ballot if they change their address from one county to another on Election Day.

The Republican-controlled Florida legislature last year cut the number of early-voting days to eight from 12 and banned early voting on the Sunday before the election, a day known as “Souls to the Polls” in many black communities where voters cast their ballots after attending church.

The early voting changes are part of another complaint filed by state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. An administrative law judge is expected to rule on that later this month.

Read the AP story after the jump.

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Justice Department to monitor primary elections in 5 FL counties

Monday, August 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The U.S. Department of Justice, suing Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over his voter purge of non-citizens, will monitor elections tomorrow in five Florida counties tomorrow to make sure Spanish-speaking voters aren’t discriminated against and get the help they need.

Two of the five counties – Collier and Hendry – are among jurisdictions covered under the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had a history of discrimination. The other three counties – Lee, Osceola and Polk – are required to provide Spanish-language ballots and have Spanish-speaking poll workers to help voters.

“The Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group. In addition, the act requires certain covered jurisdictions to provide language assistance during the election process. Collier, Hendry, Lee, Osceola and Polk Counties, as well as the city of Milwaukee, are required to provide language assistance in Spanish,” the Justice Department said in a press release issued this morning.

Osceola County is apparently under federal scrutiny due to a history of problems related to Hispanic voters, according to the county’s supervisor Mary Jane Arrington. The county made a settlement with the Justice Department a decade ago and avoided a federal lawsuit by agreeing to give Hispanic voters help casting their ballots.

“We’ve had problems in the past. They’ve been corrected but I think they’re just here checking to make sure we’re performing as we should. We certainly welcome their scrutiny,” Arrington, who was elected as supervisor in 2008, said.

Arrington said the Justice Department lawyer told her the federal oversight has nothing to do with Scott’s voter purge in which state officials tried to scrub the voting rolls of noncitzens.

Hendry County Supervisor of Elections Lucretia Strickland said she did not ask the Justice Department why she was being monitored and that the feds had overseen elections in her county previously.

“It doesn’t matter to me. If they want to monitor, I’m certainly going to let them,” Strickland said. “If they would like to observe, I don’t’ have any problem with that.”

Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards said she is meeting with a Justice Department lawyer later today to learn more about why her county was targeted.

In Polk County, the federal scrutiny was apparently sparked by Spanish-language ballots being offered for the first time, a source said.

Eleven counties in Florida, including Palm Beach, are required to provide Spanish-language ballots because of their Hispanic populations. The counties must also have at least one Spanish-speaking poll worker to provide assistance to voters and conduct bi-lingual voter education.

The Justice Department has monitored elections throughout the country, including in Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia and New York.

DOJ joins lawsuit against Florida over voter purge

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 by Dara Kam

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.

Frankel scores big in quarterly fundraising

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel nailed down $400,000 in this second quarter of fundraising for her congressional race, her campaign announced today.

That brings Frankel’s total contributions to a whopping $2.2 million and making her one of the country’s top-performing fundraisers, according to a press release issued by her campaign.

It’s the fifth quarter in a row in which Frankel raked in more than $300,000. Frankel’s the financial frontrunner District 22 Democratic primary pitting her against Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs. The official campaign finance reports aren’t due to federal elections officials until July 15.

Frankel entered the District 22 race last year in a challenge to incumbent U.S. Rep. Allen West. But after state legislators redrew the Palm Beach-Broward district with a pronounced Democratic tilt, West opted to run for a Palm Beach-Treasure Coast district instead. Jacobs jumped in, setting up an all-female, Democratic duel.

Frankel’s press release boasting about her quarterly figures ignores the primary altogether and instead focuses on Republican District 22 candidate Adam Hasner.

“Our campaign continues to build a grassroots campaign based upon the idea of focusing on getting our economy working again. Over the next 5 months, Lois’ campaign will have the resources necessary to her message out in
Broward and Palm Beach Counties,” the release reads.

Also today, Frankel announced the endorsement of fellow Palm Beach County politico U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, while Jacobs announced the support of the SEIU labor union.

Federal judge hands Gov. Scott voter purge victory

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A federal judge denied the U.S. Department of Justice’s request for an emergency restraining order to halt Florida’s non-citizen voter purge and said the controversial scrub does not violate federal law.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle heard arguments this morning from the Justice Department and Michael Carvin, a Washington lawyer representing Gov. Rick Scott’s administration. Carvin was one of the lead lawyers for President George W. Bush in the protracted 2000 recount legal wrangle.

Hinkle denied the request for the emergency stop to the program in part because he said the state was no longer doing it.

But he also rejected Justice Department attorney John Bert Russ’s argument that the non-citizen voter purge violates federal law.

He also chided both administrations, saying the “federal government and the state government ought to be working together” to ensure honest elections.

Wednesday’s hearing is the first of multiple lawsuits over the voter purge. Scott is suing the Department of Homeland Security over access to a federal database the state contends would allow them to create a less error-prone list than the Secretary of State Ken Detzner distributed to county supervisors in April.

While he denied the emergency restraining order, Judge Hinkle allowed the lawsuit to move forward.

And he put Detzner on notice that he would be available for future emergency hearings if the state “ramps up” the voter purge without making sure the list was less error-riddled.

Scott insists that no citizens have been wrongly removed from the voting rolls as a result of the purge but that about 100 non-citizens were found to have been registered to vote.

Many of the 2,600 flagged individuals on the list given out in April turned out to be naturalized citizens and therefore eligible to vote, Hinkle noted.

“Questioning someone’s citizenship unnecessarily is not as trivial as the state would have it,” Hinkle scolded. “But leaving an ineligible voter on the list is not a solution. People need to know we are running an honest election.”

Hispanic voter battle: Moveon.org launches TV ad telling Romney to condemn the purge

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Moveon.org is launching a television ad in Florida urging Latino voters to tell presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to “condemn the racist voter purge” now being defended by Gov. Rick Scott in federal court.

The TV ad, scheduled to air in Tallahassee next week, is part of a national effort to drum up support from Hispanic voters for President Obama in the November election.

Yesterday, a plane towing a banner reading “ROMNEY: CONDENA LA PURGA DE VOTANTES LATINOS” (Translation: “Romney: Condemn the Latino voter purge”) flew over Orlando where Romney addressed the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials annual conference.

Hispanics comprise the majority of a list of 2,700 potential non-citizen voters sent to elections supervisors by Secretary of State Ken Detzner in April. The controversial voter purge is the subject of three federal lawsuits challenging Scott and another by Scott against the Obama administration for failing to grant access to a federal database. The flagged voters turned out to include many were naturalized citizens and one decorated World War II veteran who said he was born in Brooklyn.

Dueling lawsuits in voter purge: DOJ to sue Gov. Rick Scott admin

Monday, June 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Department of Justice will sue Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over a controversial non-citizen voter purge, the federal agency told Scott’s administration the same day the governor filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner to “immediately cease this unlawful conduct,” blaming Scott’s administration for the problematic purge.

“Because the State has indicated its unwillingness to comply with these requirements, I have authorized the initiation of an enforcement action against Florida in federal court.”

Perez’s 0611 DOJTODETZNERfive-page letter came in response to a missive from Detzner last week accusing President Obama’s administration of conspiring to keep Florida from cleansing its voter rolls. Perez flatly denied it.

“In short, your claim that the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security have worked in concert to deny Florida access to the SAVE Program is simply wrong,” he wrote.

The SAVE database won’t work by simply matching the names and dates of birth of potential non-citizens. That’s what the Florida Department of State did with driver license and voter registration records to create a list of more than 180,000 voter flagged as potentially inelgible to cast their ballots. Many of those on the error-riddled list turned out to be naturalized citizens, and others were born in the U.S.

Scott used the purge to pump up tea party supporters at a rally in Tallahassee yesterday.

Scott has repeatedly blamed the problematic list on DHS, which failed to give Florida permission to access the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or “SAVE,” program that has more complete immigration data.

But Perez blamed Scott’s administration for the scrub flub.

“By your own admission, Florida has been on notice for at least eight months that the SAVE Program can verify naturalized and derived United States citizens only if Florida provided the appropriate numeric identifiers, and where necessary, the underlying documentation. But Florida has failed to either to provide the necessary information to DHS, or to confirm that the necessary information would be available for verification purposes under the SAVE Program,” Perez wrote. “As a result, the significant problems you are encountering in administering this new program are of your own creation.”

Scott administration says 86 non-citizens removed from voting rolls since purge started

Friday, June 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Eighty-six voters who are likely not U.S. citizens – including one Palm Beach County woman – have been removed from the rolls as a result of Gov. Rick Scott’s controversial non-citizen purge now being challenged in federal court, according to Department of State records released today.

And more than half of those appear to have voted, the records showed.

The 86 voters make up about one-third of one percent of the 2,600 voters flagged as potentially ineligible by Scott’s administration.

But it’s unclear how many of those voters removed since the problematic purge started in April were actually included in the list distributed to elections supervisors by Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

Greenacres voter Anabilil Gomez was removed from the voting rolls on May 3, the records show. But she was not on Detzner’s list. And Detzner’s spokesman Chris Cate said it is unknown yet whether Gomez or others were on the master list of 182,000 from which the April batch was culled and which officials have not yet released to the public.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said Gomez likely came to the elections office and asked to be removed. Bucher never sent letters to the suspect voters notifying them that they needed to prove their citizenship as Detzner’s office ordered her and the 66 other county supervisors to do.

“It looks like she came to the counter and told us because we sent her a voter card in December 11. The only way we would have that information is if she was telling us because we never sent the letters out,” Bucher said, adding that others came to her office “trying to give us copies of their documents” to ensure they would not be removed from the rolls.

It is a felony for ineligible people, including non-citizens, to register or vote in Florida.

Bucher said her office sent Gomez a voter registration card in December but the woman had not voted in any election.

But state department officials said 46 others on the list of 86 have voted, including about a dozen whose voting records pre-date 2006. More than half of the voters on the list were registered in Lee county.

Scott’s staff trumpeted the revelation as a vindication of the purge process, blasted by Democrats and civil rights organizations.

“As you already know, but I insist you point out, not a single US citizen has been removed from the voter rolls as a result of the state’s inquiry. But we now know with absolute certainty that a growing number of non-US citizens aren’t just illegally registered to vote here in Florida, they are also casting ballots and influencing election outcomes,” Scott spokesman Brian Burgess wrote in an e-mail. “The State of Florida has a legal obligation to do what it can to protect the votes of its citizens, and that includes preventing never-eligible, non-citizens from casting ballots and diluting the votes of eligible, law-abiding voters.”
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Civil rights groups file federal lawsuit over Florida voter purge

Friday, June 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

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.”

Florida officials try different tack to get access to federal database for voter purge

Thursday, June 7th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State officials are trying another route to get access to the Department of Homeland Security database they believe will clear up controversy over a troubled non-citizen voter purge.

Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Julie Jones today asked Department of Homeland Security officials to expand the agreement her agency has with them regarding the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or “SAVE,” database.

DHSMV already has permission to use the database to check the citizenship status of Floridians applying for driver licenses or government identification cards.

Last month, state highway officials and Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced that DHSMV would be using the SAVE database to do a more complete vetting of 182,000 potential non-citizens who applied for driver licenses or state IDs and are also registered to vote.

But shortly after that, lawyers at DHSMV decided an agreement they had with Homeland Security prevented that.

So Jones today asked for a change in the memorandum of agreement with the feds so she could keep her records more current. Jones made no mention of the controversial non-citizen purge process in her letter to John Roessler, chief of the SAVE program.

“Most Florida driver licenses and identification cards issued to lawful, permanent residents are valid for eight years with the only exception being residents aged eighty or older,” Jones wrote. “This department is interested in keeping our records as up-to-date as possible between regular renewal cycles. Therefore, we are interested in utilizing SAVE in order to update our records between renewal cycles and we believe a modification of the MOA is required.”

DHSMV and state elections officials have flagged more than 182,000 potential non-citizens who are also registered to vote by matching driver license records with the Florida Voter Registration System.

The non-citizen purge has created a national uproar, pitted Gov. Rick Scott’s administration against the Justice Department, set off a stand-off of sorts between state and local elections officials and exploded into a partisan finger-pointing match.

And today’s letter is the latest twist in Scott’s SAVE skirmish with Homeland Security.Yesterday, the governor’s administration accused DHS officials of breaking the law by ignoring requests to use the database for nine months. Detzner and Scott have repeatedly blamed the problematic purge process on President Obama’s administration. They contend that being able to vet the names of potential non-citizens through SAVE would give elections officials – who refuse to participate in the scrub until the issue is sorted out – more confidence in the purge list, which flagged a decorated World War II veteran and citizens who were naturalized after they applied for their driver license.

AG Holder insists Scott administration breaking the law with voter purge

Thursday, June 7th, 2012 by Dara Kam

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch used a Congressional hearing today as a platform for Attorney General Eric Holder to defend his intervention in a controversial non-citizen voter purge launched by Gov. Rick Scott last year.

Holder’s remarks come in the midst of a back-and-forth between the Justice Department and Scott’s administration over who is breaking the law.

Deutch, D-Boca Raton, asked Holder to respond to U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney‘s attack yesterday in which Rooney, R-Tequesta, accused Holder of playing partisan politics by trying to stop a controversial non-citizen voter purge in Florida.

A fired-up Deutch blasted Scott for the problematic purge that flagged more than 182,000 potentially ineligible voters by matching driver’s license and voter registration records. A preliminary list of 2,600 voters given by Secretary of State Ken Detzner to elections supervisors found that many of those targeted had were naturalized citizens and others who had been born in the U.S. About 40,000 legitimately-registered voters could lose their abilities to case ballots in November, Deutch said, if the purge were to continue.

Republicans’ assertions that the purge is needed to combat voter fraud “preposterous and offensive” because only 16 cases of voter fraud were found out of more than 8 million votes cast in the last presidential election in Florida, Deutch said.

“And it’s condescending because voter fraud would be a totally ineffective way to rig an election. It’s rare because it’s a felony that risks prison time and huge fines and it’s a totally illogical way to sway elections. You know what is an effective way to sway elections? Scrubbing thousands of legitimate voters off the rolls. Eradicating voter registration drives. Reducing early voting and disenfranchising millions of seniors and impoverished Americans who lack government ID’s. That’s the tactic that Gov. Scott and his ilk are using not just in Florida but around the country,” said Deutch, who weeks ago had asked Holder to look into the purge.

“But maybe I’m wrong. Is my Republican colleague right? Have I missed some grand conspiracy here?” he asked, setting the stage for Holder to respond to Rooney and Scott, who yesterday accused President Obama’s administration of breaking the law by denying access to a Homeland Security database with more complete citizenship records.

“That is not what motivated our action or will continue to motivate the action that we may have to take,” Holder said. “But I will assure you that we will make sure that the federal law is enforced. And that voter purges happen in a way that is consistent with the law.”

Last week, Holder’s voting rights division asked Scott to stop the purge because it appeared to be a violation of a federal law that bars state voter registration purges 90 days before an election. That window passed on May 16 in Florida for the Aug. 14 primary. Yesterday, Detzner said he “respectfully disagrees” with the Justice Department and that their interpretation of the law would give Floridians the right to sue the federal government to ensure their votes are not diluted.

Holder denied that he is engaged in a “political ploy” and told Deutch he is simply enforcing the law.

“I share your view that we do not want to have people inappropriately voting. We do not want to have voter rolls who contain people who should not have the right to vote. At the same time, we should be engaged in a process that does not put off the rolls people who have served their country, veterans, people who want to exercise their fundamental American rights. The notion that this is somehow a political ploy is inconsistent. One only has to look at the law which is clear. Ninety days. It is very, very clear. Ninety days,” Holder said.

Elections supervisors have abandoned the non-citizen scrub until Scott and the feds – or a court – sort things out.

Gov. Scott administration tells Justice Department it’s wrong about voter purge, gives Monday deadline for response

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration responded to the Justice Department’s request to stop a controversial non-citizen voter purge with questions of its own and told federal officials they’re wrong that the scrub violates federal law.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, given a deadline of today to respond to the Justice Department, also gave the Justice Department until Monday to answer four questions about what the state is supposed to do to ensure its voter rolls are clean.

“It is an unfortunate but now undeniable fact that Florida’s voter rolls include individuals who are not citizens of the United States,” Detzner wrote to in a four-page letter to T. Christian Herren, chief of the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Division. “The Florida Department of State has a solemn obligation to ensure the integrity of elections in this State. Permitting ineligible, non-citizen voters to cast ballots undermines that mission and erodes the justified faith the electorate has in the fairness and reliability of the electoral process.”

Despite Detzner’s insistence that the purge is legitimate, the process will remain in limbo for now because the state’s elections supervisors will not continue the scrub until the issue is resolved by state and federal officials or a court, the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections general counsel Ron Labasky said Wednesday evening.

Last week, Herren said that the purge process is a potential violation of federal law that prohibits large-scale voter list maintenance 90 days before an election. That deadline was May 16 for the Aug. 14 primary in Florida.

Detzner blamed the problematic purge on the federal government for failing to grant the state access to a Department of Homeland Security database that has more up-to-date information regarding citizenship than the driver license records used to create a flawed list of more than 2,600 potential non-citizens who are also registered voters.

“In sum, the practice DOJ now seems to be enforcing is as follows: The Department of Homeland Security may, for months, violate federal law and deny Florida and other states access to the SAVE database so that the federal Department of Justice may then assert that the resulting delays in a state’s election-integrity efforts violate the time periods established in another federal law. This hardly seems like an approach designed to protect the integrity of elections and ensure that eligible voters have their votes counted,” Detzner wrote.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney tells feds to butt out of Florida voter purge

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney told Attorney General Eric Holder to stop meddling in Gov. Rick Scott’s effort to clean up the voter rolls in Florida, accusing Holder of “blatant politicization” of the non-citizen voter purge.

The Justice Department last week told Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner the voter purge may violate two federal laws and gave Detzner until today to respond to its request to drop the scrub.

Scott has given no indication he’s going to back down, and Detzner insists that the law requires him to ensure the voter rolls are accurate.

Rooney, a Tequesta Republican, is the latest official to wade into the political fray over the purge, which has sparked a national partisan dust-up. Democrats blame the Scott administration of trying to keep minorities and Hispanics – who dominate the list of 2,600 flagged voters given to elections officials in April – from going to the polls in November. Republicans accuse critics of the purge, including Holder, of wanting to break the law by allowing ineligible voters to cast their ballots.

Rooney’s letter mirrors a legal analysis by a former Justice Department lawyer who says Holder is wrong.

“Your actions further demonstrate that the Department of Justice, under your leadership, is more concerned with protecting the reelection prospects of the President than with upholding justice and enforcing the rule of law,” Rooney wrote in a letter sent today.

The News Service of Florida reported that Scott earlier today defended the purge, which he initiated last year, and said he hopes to have a response to the Justice Department today and defended the purge.

“Not a single eligible voter as far, as I know, has been removed from the voter rolls,” Scott said in an interview with WNDB radio in Daytona Beach, where Scott was Wednesday. “Not one. And we’re working to keep it that way.”

Scott insisted the purge is necessary to maintain voters’ confidence in the elections process.

“Their vote should not be diluted by people who don’t have the right to vote,” Scott said. “We need to be reviewing our voter rolls and making sure only those individuals who have the right to vote … are voting.”

Meanwhile, the state’s elections supervisors have dropped the voter purge because the data they received was too flawed and they want to wait until the issue is sorted out by Scott and the feds or the courts. The 67 supervisors are the only ones who can actually remove voters from the rolls.

League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote get back to work in Florida

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

After a federal judge last week blocked portions of a controversial new election law signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Rock the Vote will get back to work registering voters, the groups announced Wednesday.

“Failure was never an option in this battle against voter suppression,” said LWVF President Deirdre Macnab. “Now it’s time for our volunteers to work overtime to make up for lost ground. Our goal? To make sure every eligible Floridian has the opportunity to have their voice heard and their vote counted.”

On May 31, Tallahassee federal judge Robert Hinkle stopped a 48-hour turnaround requirement in the new law for third party groups to turn in voter registrations to elections supervisors and halted a requirement that the organizations submit to the state the names of all “registration agents,” including those who simply hand out fliers. Hinkle wrote that portions of the law dealing with third party voter organizations likely violated at least two federal laws.

While Hinkle’s preliminary injunction was not a final ruling on the law, he wrote that the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, two of the plaintiffs in the case, were likely to succeed on the merits of their lawsuit, opening the door for the nonpartisan groups to resume their work. The LWVF had registered voters in Florida for more than seven decades prior to the passage of the law, now being challenged in a federal lawsuit in Washington.

Rock the Vote registered more than 100,000 new voters before the 2008 election, the group’s president Heather Smith said last week.

“Florida is an important youth vote state,” Smith said today. “This decision enables us to get back to the work of encouraging a new generation of engaged voters and future leaders.”

Moveon.org targets Gov. Rick Scott over non-citizen voter purge

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Activists at Moveon.org have launched a campaign demanding that Gov. Rick Scott drop a controversial non-citizen voter purge, calling it “the worst attack on voting rights in the country.”

The e-mail to Moveon.org members asking them to contact Scott’s office comes a day before a deadline set by the Justice Department last week telling Scott’s administration that the scrub appears to violate at least two federal elections laws. The Department of Justice gave Secretary of State Ken Detzner until tomorrow to tell them whether he will comply. Detzner and Scott gave no indication that would halt the program, and elections supervisors last week said they would drop the effort until the feds and Scott – or a court – resolve the issue.

“We have just 24 hours to make sure Governor Rick Scott stops his all-out assault on Florida’s Latino voters. It’s the worst attack on voting rights in the country,” the e-mail from Moveon.org organizer Garlin Gilchrist II begins.

In April, Detzner sent Florida’s 67 elections supervisors a list of more than 2,600 “non-citizens” culled from a grand list of more than 183,000 flagged by matching the state voter registration database with driver’s license records. The supervisors found that the list was riddled with errors. U.S.-born voters – including at least one Brooklyn-born war hero – and naturalized citizens were among those flagged. Many of the names on the list are Hispanic.

“We have to stop Governor Scott today—he is embarrassing Florida and corrupting the electoral process. His reckless acts have local and national implications. So let’s ring his office’s phones off the hook until he stops his racially-targeted attack on voting rights,” Gilchrist’s message goes on. “Will you call Gov. Scott right now? Tell him, ‘Stop illegally purging Florida voters.’ Here’s where to call. Governor Rick Scott:
(850) 488-7146.”

UPDATE: Elections supervisors to quit processing voter purge list

Friday, June 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Elections supervisors will stop using a flawed list of potential non-citizens to scrub the voter rolls, Martin County Supervisor of Elections Vicki Davis, president of the state’s elections supervisors association, said this morning.

The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday told Secretary of State Ken Detzner that the voter purge process, launched by Detzner in April, appears to violate at least two federal voting laws. DOJ gave Detzner until June 6 to respond.

The Justice Department letter and the problematic list make the scrub undoable, Davis said.

“That’s why we’re just stopping. There are just too many variables with this entire process at this time for supervisors to continue,” Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said.

Ron Labasky, the association’s general counsel, is sending a memo to the state’s 67 elections supervisors this morning telling them to stop processing the list, Davis said.

“My advice under these circumstances, and based upon the previous issues that have been presented concerning the list, as well as the fact that the Department has indicated its intent to take further actions to review its list to determine its validity, I recommend that Supervisors of Elections cease any further action until the issues were raised by the Department of Justice are resolved between the parties or by a Court,” Labasky wrote to the supervisors today.

Detzner in April sent a list of more than 2,600 flagged voters identified as potential non-citizens by matching the state’s voter registration database with driver’s license records. But the error-riddled list included the names of U.S.-born citizens – like one Brooklyn-born war hero – and others who are naturalized citizens.

At their summer meeting last month, elections supervisors of both parties raised objections to the list to state Division of Elections officials, who then said the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles would scrub the list more carefully using a Department of Homeland Security database.

But yesterday, Labasky told the supervisors that Detzner’s office said DHSMV could not run the names through the federal database. Detzner, a Republican, also yesterday again asked Homeland Security officials for access to the database.

The non-citizen purge list – the brainchild of Republican Gov. Rick Scott – has created a national firestorm over elections in crucial swing-state Florida and has sparked a partisan battle over what to do next.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry this morning announced an online campaign to get people to contact the White House and ask for access to the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE, database.

Democrats say the voter purge process is part of a GOP effort to keep voters away from the polls in November.

A federal judge yesterday blocked portions of a controversial elections law passed last year, saying a 48-hour requirement for third party groups to turn in voter registration forms was “harsh and impractical.”

Justice Department tells Scott administration to quit purging voters

Friday, June 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Justice Department has asked Gov. Rick Scott’s administration to stop a controversial voter purge effort, saying it appears to violate federal law.

DOJ officials gave Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who launched the purge of potential non-citizens in April, until June 6 to tell them what the state’s plan is.

In April, Detzner sent Florida’s 67 elections supervisors a list of more than 2,600 “non-citizens” flagged by matching the state voter registration database with driver’s license records. The supervisors found that the list was riddled with errors. U.S.-born voters – including at least one war hero – and naturalized citizens were among those flagged. Many of the names on the list are Hispanic.

The purge set off a national firestorm over another in a long history of voting and elections scrapes in Florida. Civil rights groups and Democrats, including Boca Raton U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, have asked Scott’s administration to abandon the effort. And, citing faulty data, some local supervisors have dropped the scrub. This week, activists started an online petition asking DOJ to intervene. Throughout it all, Detzner has insisted he will continue with the purge and yesterday again asked the Department of Homeland Security for access to its database to ensure the data is more reliable.

In yesterday’s letter, T. Christian Herren, chief of the DOJ’s voting section, said the scrub appeared to violate at least two federal laws. Five counties in Florida require federal approval before any voting or election changes are made, but Detzner did not ask the DOJ or a federal court to sign off on the purge before he initiated it.

And federal voting laws prohibit any major voter scrub 90 days before an election. That deadline was May 16 for Florida’s Aug. 14 primary.

Detzner doesn’t appear to be backing down. His spokesman Chris Cate told The News Service of Florida late yesterday the agency is reviewing the letter but “we are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot.”

Federal judge blocks ‘harsh and impractical’ Florida voter registration restrictions

Thursday, May 31st, 2012 by Dara Kam

A federal judge has issued an injunction barring enforcement of part of Florida’s controversial new election law, ruling that a 48-hour deadline for third party groups to turn in voter registration forms is “harsh and impractical.”

Tallahassee federal Judge Robert Hinkle left intact much of the rest of the law, passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year. Portions of that law are also being challenged in federal court in Washington.

The new law and associated rule “impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional” even if they do not violate the National Voting Rights Act, Hinkle wrote in a 27-page ruling issued today.

The League of Women Voters filed the lawsuit against former Secretary of State Kurt Browning last year after the law went into effect. The league said the new law forced them to stop voter registration drives in Florida after more than seven decades because of the onerous time requirements punishable by up to $1,000 in fines. A variety of other groups, including the ACLU of Florida, joined the lawsuit.

In granting the preliminary injunction, Hinkle ruled that “the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits of their challenge” to some of the provisions of the law and the rules and that voter registration was “working well” before the law was changed last year. Republican lawmakers insisted the new law was designed to discourage fraud.

But Hinkle, wrote, “allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives—thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote—promotes democracy.”

UPDATE: Voting rights groups ask Scott to stop non-citizen voter purge

Thursday, May 24th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A coalition of voting rights groups is asking Gov. Rick Scott to stop a statewide effort to purge thousands of potential non-citzens from the voting rolls, and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, also plans to ask the governor to stop the scrub.

Lawyers for the groups said in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner that the voting purge is in violation of the National Voting Rights Act which prohibits systematic purging of the voter rolls 90 days prior to a general election. The purge effort falls within that 90-day prohibition because of Florida’s Aug. 14 primary.

Last month, Detzner sent a list of more than 2,600 potentially ineligible voters to the state’s 67 elections supervisors flagged as potentially ineligible by matching driver’s license and voting records. But the list was riddled with errors and included some voters who were born in the U.S. and others who had become citizens since getting their driver’s licenses or state-issued ID cards. Detzner’s office then went to work on scrubbing a list of up to 180,000 flagged voters whose citizenship is in question.

Last week, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles officials said they would begin a more exhaustive vetting of the list by using a federal database with more up-to-date citizenship information. The list is exacerbating an already strained relationship between state and local elections officials as the November general election approaches.

Project Vote, Fair Elections Legal Network, Advancement Project, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, LULAC Florida, and the Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition asked Detzner to abandon the non-citizen initiative, prompted by Gov. Rick Scott after he took office in 2010.

Many of the voters on the list are Hispanics, which could also be a violation of the NVRA which requires state voter list maintenance programs to be uniform and non-discriminatory, lawyers for the groups said.

“The right to vote is the fundamental pillar of our democracy. Florida has a shameful history of purging minority voters based on false information and inaccurate lists right before the presidential elections,” Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, said in a press release. “This year’s deeply flawed process disproportionately targets Latino voters and is discriminatory, unfair and antithetical to the values of our nation.”

Detzner’s spokesman Chris Cate said the group is wrong.

“We just received the letter, but we’ve had it long enough to know we disagree with their interpretation of the law. Not only do we believe it’s crucial to have ineligible voters removed from the voter rolls, we’re obligated by law to do it,” Cate said in an e-mail. Detzner’s office will be sending a formal response to the coalition, Cate said, noting that the presidential primary was in January, not in August as the groups said in their letter.

Deutch also drafted a letter to Scott asking him to stop flushing the voter rolls.

“Given that this process fails to meet basic standards of accountability, and that the legal authority for automatic removal of registered voters is currently being challenged in both state and federal court, it is irresponsible to proceed so quickly and with so little room for oversight. If the goal is truly to remove ineligible individuals who were intentionally or somehow mistakenly registered to vote, then that process must move forward in a nonpartisan manner with transparency, uniformity, and great care,” Deutch’s draft letter reads. “Governor Scott, Florida has never encountered problems with mass voter fraud. Unfortunately however, our state does have a troubled history of wrongfully purging from our rolls the names of legitimate voters mistakenly deemed ineligible to vote. In both 2000 and 2004, the state pursued misguided efforts to purge the voter rolls that were shown to wrongfully include legal voters in these lists. Only when the lists and the process were made transparent could all Florida voters trust that no one would be wrongfully denied their right to vote.”

DHSMV to start vetting non-citizen voter list

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State highway officials will begin vetting a controversial list of 180,000 potential non-citizens who are registered to vote within the next few weeks, The Palm Beach Post has learned.

The news comes as a surprise to elections supervisors who, at their summer meeting this week, pleaded with state Division of Elections leaders to more thoroughly scrub the records before sending them on to the local officials for further action.

The Department of State last month gave elections supervisors a list of more than 2,600 voters – many of them in Miami-Dade County – potentially ineligible to vote because they may not be legal citizens. The list was generated by matching voter registration files with driver’s license data.

But the information in the list included some voters who were born in the U.S. and others who are naturalized citizens. Secretary of State Ken Detzner and his staff blamed the problematic list on the Department of Homeland Security. The federal officials have refused to give Detzner’s office access to a federal database with more up-to-date immigration and citizenship information.

But the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has access to the SAVE – “Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements” – database, prompting county supervisors on Tuesday and Wednesday to ask the state elections staff to get DHSMV to run the records through SAVE. Division of Elections chief Gisela Salas and DOS lawyer Maria Matthews told the supervisors their agency is working with DHSMV to resolve the issue but were uncertain about whether it could be done.

On Thursday, DHSMV Director of Motorist Services Boyd Walden told The Palm Beach Post that his agency will begin running the list of 180,000 potential non-citizens through the SAVE database within the next few weeks.

“We are gearing up to get it done. That’s the plan,” Walden said.

DOS spokesman Chris Cate confirmed that the vetting would begin soon, and the state department would pick up the tab. DOS sent a memo to supervisors late Thursday telling them of the new plan, Cate said. Read the memo after the jump.

The SAVE database includes records on people who have gone through the immigration process, including those who have applied for green cards or become citizens.

“It’s disappointing DHS will not give us direct access to their database but we are very grateful for our state partners at highway safety who understand the importance of having accurate voter rolls,” Cate said. “We have an obligation to improve the accuracy of Florida’s voter rolls. So we have offered to pay the cost it takes for Highway Safety to update their records and ultimately the status of potential non-citizens on Florida’s voter rolls.”

State elections officials do not have an estimate of many non-citizens will be confirmed on the voter rolls, Cate said.

“We just know it’s important for us to find out what that number is,” he said.

Supervisors were relieved at the news.

Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher pressed officials from both agencies on Tuesday and Wednesday to have DHSMV scrub the list.

“Obviously our goal is to have the most accurate data possible so we don’t disturb voters who shouldn’t be on that list,” Bucher, who has not yet notified about 115 voters in Palm Beach County that they have been flagged as potentially ineligible voters. “All of us would have appreciated some more specific information from the division of Elections. I’m hopeful that we receive that soon.”

Read Salas’ memo to supervisors below.
(more…)

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