A federal judge today refused the Department of Justice’s attempt to block a Florida voter purging initiative that has already proved to strip hundreds of eligible citizens of their right to vote.
Last month, the Justice Department sued the state of Florida to stop a voter purge program which aims to systematically takes “non-citizens” off of voter rolls weeks before the August 14 federal primary election. Using a highly dubious methodology, the state appeared to find 2,600 people they suspected were not citizens, but might potentially vote.
The grand majority of the people on that list were people of color and Democrats, while over half were Latino-Americans. DOJ claimed that Florida’s program runs afoul of the National Voter Registration Act, which says voters can’t be removed in a massive program within 90 days of a federal election — a law put in place mostly in response to Florida’s history of removing eligible voters in massive programs right before elections.
Judge Hinkle did not see it that way, though and has allowed Florida’s program to continue. His ruling states that federal laws say nothing about removing ineligible voters within 90 days of an election, even though the purge program has already produced hundreds of names of people who are eligible to vote.
“We’re disappointed with the judge’s decision,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda Hair, whom Colorlines just interviewed last week about a lawsuit they also filed against Florida over the voter purge program.
“This threatens the voting rights of thousands of U.S. citizens. The right to vote is the fundamental pillar of our democracy and targeting a particular group of voters is simply wrong.”
“Florida is is imposing a two-tiered system of voting, one for citizens who were born here and one for those who have been naturalized, with thousands of U.S.-born citizens being unfairly caught up in this anti-democratic purge,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne-Dianis. “Voting illegally already carries with it a threat of substantial fines, jail sentences, and—in the case of non-citizens—deportation. What Florida is actually doing is trying to disenfranchise American citizen for partisan gain. It is against the basic values of fairness and American democracy, which is why we have filed suit to stop it.”
Speaking with Advancement Project’s director of voter protection, Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, she said this ruling against DOJ should not affect their lawsuit, which was filed in a different court, and has a different focus. While DOJ’s case targets National Voter Registration Act violations, for starting voter list maintenance within the 90-day “quiet period,” Advancement’s case focuses on the discriminatory impact of the purge program, as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Of 562 people in Miami-Dade county who were accused by the state of being non-citizens, 98% are U.S. citizens, said Culliton-Gonzalez. Two of their clients, a Nicaraguan American and a Haitian American, are naturalized citizens whose voting rights have been infringed upon by Florida’s voter purge program, according to the lawsuit.
“We don’t agree with today’s ruling because it seems to be about purging people — not people who are ineligible to vote, but thousands of people who are elgible, many people who are naturalized citizens, and the great majority of whom are people of color,” said Culliton-Gonzalez.
There are also other lawsuits pending against Florida over the purge program.
This is the same judge, Robert Hinkle, who just blocked Florida’s onerous voter registration laws, because they made it harder for citizens to vote.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner had this to say:
“We are pleased with today’s decision because it is further confirmation that we are doing the right thing and following the law. The court agreed that identifying ineligible voters who have never had a right to vote will help prevent the votes of eligible citizens from being neutralized.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said, “The court made a common-sense decision consistent with what I’ve been saying all along: that irreparable harm will result if non-citizens are allowed to vote. … We know from just a small sample that an alarming number of non-citizens are on the voter rolls and many of them have illegally voted in past elections.”
There are not “alarming” numbers of non-citizens on voter rolls, and both Gov. Scott and Sec. Detzner have admitted their program is flawed. The purge program is, in fact, suspended not because of the lawsuits, but because the state’s own county election supervisors have refused to comply due to alarming numbers of inaccuracies.
[This post has been updated: A correction was made to incorrect statement that the Department of Justice’s lawsuit centered on the Voting Rights Act; also, additional content was added after an interview with Advancement Project director of voter protection Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez]