The already nightmarish condition of Florida’s purge of immigrant voters has attracted a slew of lawsuits. The first of those, filed Friday, comes from two U.S. citizens from Hillsborough County and a Latino civic participation group that claim their voting rights have been violated. The purge has drawn national controversy, sparked a federal civil rights probe, the citizens’ suit, and now suits between Florida and the feds.
The Department of Justice issued Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner a letter indicating the initiation of suit against Florida in federal court, citing the state is in violation of two federal voting rights laws. The suit follows the fed’s inquiry into the voter purge, which has questioned the rights of eligible U.S. citizens to vote.
According to the citizen’s suit, Murat Limage, who was born in Haiti, became a U.S. citizen and subsequently registered to vote in 2010, received a letter in April informing him that he was on a newly compiled list of voters suspected of not being citizens. Limage was told that if he failed to present proof of citizenship within 30 days, his name could be removed from the rolls, making him ineligible to cast his ballot.
Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles first issued Limage a driver’s license in 1999. When Limage updated it in 2008, the department noted that he was not a U.S. citizen at the time. These are the records the state is using find the non-citizen voters that Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has insisted are a threat to Florida’s fair elections. But the scheme doesn’t account for those U.S. citizens who, like Limage, were naturalized after they received or updated their driver’s licenses.
After receiving the daunting letter, Limage took the time to provide proof of his citizenship at the Hillsborough County Elections and Registration Office. An official made a copy of Limage’s passport yet told him he wouldn’t be provided with any confirmation in writing that he had, in fact, proven his citizenship–and was therefore eligible to vote. Limage remains rightfully worried that he won’t be able to vote in this fall’s election, because the only document he has in writing is the one that questions his citizenship.
Because word of Florida’s voter purge is spreading like wildfire, it’s also causing anxiety for those U.S. citizens who have not yet received a letter from elections supervisors, but are concerned that they will — or those who believe they won’t get a letter but will be told they are ineligible once they arrive at the polls on Election Day.
One such person is Pamela Gomez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and is part of the citizens’ suit. The suit claims that Gomez, who like Limage, was issued her driver’s license before she became a naturalized citizen, has had her voter rights violated. Gomez expects her eligibility as a voter will be contested as a result of Secretary of State Detzner’s cross-referencing scheme to target supposed non-citizens.
The citizens’ lawsuit is backed by the ACLU and other groups that sent Detzner a letter on June 1, warning that the voter purge was taking place in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (and, not surprisingly, was ignored). The suit asserts that the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund has also had its rights violated.
The organization, a non-profit that conducts voter registration for recently naturalized citizens in Florida (as well as other states), claims that the voter purge will derail its mission. Mi Familia Vota (Spanish for "My Family Votes") fears its already restricted resources will be diverted from registering voters to helping them deal with ill informed election supervisor requests. If organizations like Mi Familia Vota are caught up helping U.S. citizens prove their right to vote, their efforts to register minority voters will, of course, be thwarted.
Election supervisors in all 67 Florida counties have already suspended the voter purge, including Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard, who has admitted that the list includes eligible citizens (Murat Limage, for example). Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s voter purge, which has already yielded more than 2,600 names, now faces legal challenges from the citizen’s suit, as well as another suit initiated by the Department of Justice yesterday. But Detzner is still defending the purge–and announced that Florida will be suing the fed as well.