Elections supervisors advised to stop Fla. purge


Published: Friday, June 1, 2012 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2012 at 6:02 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — A lawyer for Florida's local election officials on Friday advised them to stop a state-directed effort to identify and purge ineligible voters until its legality is resolved.

The U.S. Justice Department, in a letter Thursday night, demanded a halt to the search for non-citizen voters, which began at the urging of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, because the process appears to violate federal law.

State Association of Supervisors of Elections president Vicki Davis, the supervisor in Martin County, said she believed all 67 supervisors will follow the advice of their legal adviser, Ron Labasky. With the exception of Miami-Dade County's appointed supervisor, they are independently elected officials.

"It's illegal under federal law and I'm going to follow the law," said Ion Sancho, the supervisor in Leon County.

Hours before the Justice Department letter arrived, a federal judge in Tallahassee temporarily blocked new state restrictions on voter registration drives, saying it's likely opponents would win a lawsuit claiming those provisions are unconstitutional.

Both developments, just months before Florida is set to play a key role in this year's presidential election, are examples of what Democrats and voting rights activists say are attempts by ruling Republicans to suppress voter turnout.

"There is no other explanation except this is trying to gin up the conspiracy theory that the election's going to be stolen," said University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith, a voting rights expert. "It's definitely hardball politics."

Republicans, though, say the only thing they're trying to suppress is election fraud.

Scott said the Justice Department letter was still under review, but he insisted his intent was nonpolitical.

"I was elected to enforce the laws of the land, and when you vote, you want to make sure it's a fair election," Scott said in Miami, where he attended events marking the start of the 2012 hurricane season.

The state's procedures for identifying non-U.S. citizens have not been reviewed by the Justice Department to make sure they don't discriminate, wrote T. Christian Herren in the letter to Florida Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner. Herren is voting section chief in the federal agency's Civil Rights Division.

Changes in Florida voting procedures must get Justice Department approval because five counties are covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 due to past racial discrimination.

Herren also wrote that removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of an election appears to violate a federal voting law. Florida's primary election is Aug. 14.

The letter gives Florida until June 6 to tell federal authorities if the state plans to halt the purge.

Even before the Justice Department's letter, the state's purge had come under fire from elections supervisors of both parties, as well as Democratic members of Congress and voting rights groups.

Earlier this year state officials gave supervisors a smaller list of under 2,700 voters and asked them to begin the removal process.

Supervisors, however, began finding errors on the list. One GOP supervisor went on Twitter to post a picture of one listed voter's U.S. passport. Two Democratic members of Congress this week held a news conference with a World War II veteran whose citizenship had been questioned.

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