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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.

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.”
(more…)

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.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning resigns for the second time

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Secretary of State Kurt Browning is stepping down – for the second time – but will stay on the job long enough to oversee the Jan. 31 GOP presidential primary election.

Browning, who met briefly with Gov. Rick Scott today before announcing his resignation, has served twice as the state’s chief elections official. He worked for four years for Gov. Charlie Crist but took an early retirement in 2010 because of a new rule dealing with state workers collecting pensions while on the job.

Scott rehired Browning shortly after the governor took office in January. After six months off the state payroll, Browning was again eligible to work and collect retirement pay at the same time. Browning, who earns $139,999.92 a year, will stay until Feb. 17, after which he is considering a run for Pasco County school superintendent.

Browning told reporters Wednesday he did “a lot of soul-searching” over the holidays before deciding to step down, that he was not being forced out and that he hopes his replacement will take over before he leaves.

“I’ve always said the department of state ran well before I got here. It will run well after I’m gone,” Browning said.

Browning’s been involved in a high-profile federal lawsuit over the state’s new elections laws, and has been an outspoken critic of President Obama’s administration.

(more…)

Update: Amends 5 & 6 sent to Justice Department after GOP delay

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The House and Senate agreed Tuesday to send to federal officials the voter-approved Amendments 5 and 6, apparently ending an icy standoff between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic-allied supporters of the redistricting measures.

Sending the amendments to the U.S. Justice Department for “preclearance,” is a routine step in the redistricting process. But Scott added a level of intrigue when he quietly withdraw the state’s request soon after taking office.

Supporters of the so-called Fair Districts amendments, which are aimed at requiring that compact legislative and congressional districts be designed by lawmakers without concern for incumbents or political parties, sued Scott and Secretary of State Kurt Browning to force the review to proceed.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Miami, include the state NAACP, the League of Women Voters,  Democracia, a Hispanic political action group, and five individuals from Monroe County. (more…)

File an appeal already, Bondi tells White House

Thursday, February 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi called President Obama’s administration’s request for clarification in a ruling overturning the federal health care law a delay tactic and urged the president to file an appeal to move the case along to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bondi yesterday asked U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson to reject the Justice Department’s request for clarification of his ruling that the health care law is unconstitutional. Some states, including Florida, have halted implementation of the law while awaiting an ultimate decision by the Supreme Court.

“Department of Justice’s motion to clarify is merely an attempt to delay the process when the order clearly required a halt to implementation,” Bondi said in a statement.

Vinson’s order amounts to an injunction on the health care law in Florida and the 25 other states in the lawsuit, Bondi said.

“Our memorandum states that time is of the essence in this matter, and the Court should deny the defendants’ motion for clarification as well as their thinly disguised request for a stay,” she said. “Everyone knows this case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Department of Justice should join us in seeking an expedited appeals process. This issue is too important for delay, and we urge the
President to file an appeal in the appropriate appellate court, as was done in Virginia and Michigan. It is in the country’s best interest to present this case before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as possible.”

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