By Howard Goodman
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The U.S. Department of Justice has ordered Florida to halt its effort to purge noncitizens from the voter rolls.
The Justice Department says that Florida’s effort appears to violate both the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities, and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which governs voter purges.
T. Christian Herren Jr., the Justice Department’s lead civil rights lawyer, demanded the halt in a detailed, two-page letter sent late Thursday night, the Miami Herald reports.
State officials said they were reviewing the letter. But they indicated they might fight DOJ over its interpretation of federal law and expressed frustration that President Barack Obama’s administration has stonewalled the state’s noncitizen voter hunt for nine months.
“We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was ordered by Gov. Rick Scott to conduct the search for potentially ineligible voters. …
Under the Voting Rights Act, Florida needs federal approval before it makes changes to voting because five Florida counties – Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry – had minority-voting troubles decades ago
“Our records do not reflect that these changes affecting voting have been submitted to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for judicial review or to the Attorney General for administrative review as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” Herren wrote.
“Accordingly, it is necessary that they either be brought before that court or submitted to the Attorney General for a determination that they neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under Section 5.”
He gave the state until next Wednesday to inform the Justice Department of its planned course of action. …
Herren also said that the National Voter Registration Act bans Florida’s effort because it says “a State shall complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for Federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.”
The vote purge, which has targeted primarily Hispanics, Democrats and independents, has been criticized as a politically motivated effort by state Republicans to suppress the vote and blunt registered Democrats’ numerical advantage before the November election. It has also been pocked with errors, sweeping up U.S. citizens among suspected noncitizens being told to present evidence of citizenship or be stricken from the voter rolls.