Up to 180,000 Floridian citizens could be affected by the changes, an estimated 58 percent of them Hispanic. According the Miami Herald, white and GOP voters are the least likely to face purges. “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy and every eligible voter deserves an opportunity to participate,” said Penda Hair, co director of Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that works to protect voting rights. “These types of discriminatory purges unfairly deny access to the ballot to large numbers of American citizens.”
Using information from the driver’s license database is problematic because not all U.S. citizens present proof of citizenship when procuring their driver’s licenses and many legal residents who obtained driver’s licenses have since become citizens. “We are concerned,” explained Advancement Project co director Judith Browne Dianis, “that the current purging methods – which may be continued in the months leading up to the November 2012 elections and could result in the disenfranchisement of eligible voters – are likely to be faulty and not provide accurate information about which Floridians are citizens.”
Federal voting laws already require proof of citizenship upon registration and prohibit noncitizens from voting. This current round of purges in Florida threatens to disenfranchise thousands of citizens and disparately impacts Latinos and other immigrant communities who have taken all of the necessary steps and gone to great lengths to become U.S. citizens. Though Florida officials claim this latest move is to preserve the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud, the state is actually preventing eligible citizens from voting.
Civil rights groups today delivered a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner charging the state with violating the National Voting Rights Act of 1993 for the removal of voters from the rolls whom the state alleges are noncitizens.
The Florida Department of Elections is conducting a broad sweep of election rolls, purging the names of Florida residents through flawed methodologies that are likely to keep thousands of U.S. citizens from being able to exercise their right to vote in November. To determine eligibility, state election officials are comparing voter lists with the Department of Highway Safety database, even though citizenship documentation is not required to obtain a driver’s license.
The NVRA expressly prohibits states from systematically removing voters from the rolls within 90 days prior to a federal election. With Florida’s primary being scheduled for August 14, 2012, the state’s new program falls within this window and is in violation of the federal law. Up to 180,000 Floridian citizens could be affected by the changes, an estimated 58 percent of them Hispanic. According to the Miami Herald, white and GOP voters are the least likely to face purges.
“The right to vote is the fundamental pillar of our democracy,” explained Advancement Project Co-Director Penda Hair. “Florida has a shameful history of purging minority voters based on false information and inaccurate lists right before the presidential elections. This year's deeply flawed process disproportionately targets Latino voters and is discriminatory, unfair and antithetical to the values of our nation.” In 2000 and 2004, the state used a flawed method to come up with a listing of people believed to be ineligible to vote due to past felony convictions and sought to purge them from the rolls. Tens of thousands of those listed had been granted clemency and had their rights fully restored, others were mistakenly purged due to similar names and other errors.
According to state election officials, the purges were started at the direct urging of GOP Governor Rick Scott.
Q: What is Florida going to do to in response to the
Department of Justice’s letter?
Florida will continue to protect the rights of citizens to vote. That includes, but is not limited to, ensuring the voter rolls are accurate, and forwarding credible and reliable information whenever such information is discovered. Florida is also continuing to demand access to the federal SAVE database, which is the most accurate database available for verifying voter citizenship status.
Q: Why is the Florida Department of State removing voters
from the voter registration rolls?
Florida’s Department of State isn’t removing anyone from the voter registration rolls. Only independent elections supervisors in each county may remove voters from the voter rolls. But Florida elections officials have an obligation to protect the right of eligible voters to cast a ballot, and that includes preventing non-citizens from participating in an election. County elections officials are required under state and federal law to remove ineligible voters (such as non-U.S. citizens) from the voter database whenever credible and reliable information is presented to them.
Q: Why is Florida acting now?
The process to remove non-U.S. citizens from Florida’s voter database actually began in Spring 2011. A few months later, in September 2011, Florida elections officials asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database. After waiting several months to gain access to this database, Florida initiated the process to remove ineligible voters based on the best information available to the state. The states of Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina have also requested access to the SAVE system for a similar purpose. But the federal government has yet to grant access to the system.
Q: What is the process Florida is using to identify
Florida is currently waiting for the federal government to grant access to the SAVE database in order to verify that non-citizens will be removed from the voter rolls ahead of the 2012 election. Without access to this data, or some new evidence from other sources (such as court records or other official documents) that can identify non-citizens, the federal government is preventing Florida from identifying and removing non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.
When a state motor vehicle and driver database containing citizenship information was matched with a list of registered voters, Florida identified more than 182,000 potential non-citizens listed as registered voters. Without access to the federal government’s SAVE database, Florida elections officials refined the data using state information and sent an initial list of 2,600 potential non-citizens to county election supervisors for further review and action.
County elections supervisors have a legal obligation to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls whenever presented with credible and reliable evidence, however, each county supervisor has the independent authority to determine how best to proceed with the information presented to them. County supervisors have acted responsibly. To date, there are zero reported cases of anyone being wrongly removed from the system.
Q: What about the World War II veteran I keep hearing about?
We are aware of no U.S. citizens who have been removed from the voter rolls. The World War II veteran in question pointed out a discrepancy in the motor vehicle database and that error was corrected. No further action was taken and at no time was he ever removed from the voting system. The process worked exactly as it was designed to work.
Q: Have any non-U.S. citizens been removed from the system?
Yes. Multiple people in multiple counties throughout Florida have already been identified and removed as a result of being non-citizens. Of the initial list of 2,600 names being reviewed, the majority have not responded to inquiries from county officials. But the state cannot verify their eligibility until the federal government grants access to the SAVE database or until more evidence is presented that they are non-citizens.
Q: What occurs when county election supervisors are provided
names of potential non-citizens?
Potentially ineligible voters are given due process, as is statutorily required. When a supervisor of elections receives information from DOS that a registered voter is a potential non-citizen, the supervisor must begin the statutory notice process. Potential non-citizens will be provided an explanation of the basis for their potential ineligibility and an opportunity to contact the supervisor to dispute the determination of potential ineligibility.
Q: What if someone is erroneously removed from the rolls?
We are aware of no U.S. citizens who have been removed from the voter rolls as a result of the state’s effort to identify non-citizens. However, if this ever did occur, an erroneously removed person could contact their county elections supervisor and be retroactively reinstated and eligible to vote in any upcoming elections. Additionally, if someone realized they had been wrongly removed while at the polling place, they could vote a provisional ballot which would absolutely count once the person informed their county elections official of their citizenship status.
But again, it is important to note that no eligible voters have reported being wrongly removed from the rolls as a result of the state’s effort to identify non-citizens.
Q: How many non-U.S. citizens will remain on the voting
rolls during the 2012 election cycle?
It’s impossible to say for sure. Until the federal government grants DOS access to the SAVE database and helps ensure ineligible voters cannot cast a ballot, DOS will be unable to know what percentage of the 182,000 potential non-citizens are truly ineligible to vote.
Q: Is the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) correct in
saying Florida is violating the law?
No. Florida is well within its legal rights to remove never-eligible non-citizens from the voter rolls. Further, it appears that the federal government, specifically the Department of Homeland Security, may be in violation of the law by blocking Colorado, Florida, Michigan and North Carolina from accessing the SAVE database, which is explicitly permitted in federal law.
June 7, 2012
"Gov. Rick Scott continues to break the law in order to deny the voting rights of Floridians of color. The Department of Justice must take action to protect the rights of Floridians by suing to end the voter purge. Earlier this week, more than 1,200 MoveOn members in Florida phoned Gov. Scott to urge him to end his racially targeted voter purge. With this letter, Gov. Scott has shown, like the Jim Crow Governors of old, that he's hell bent on discriminating against Floridians of color. That's why today, MoveOn members are calling on the Department of Justice to sue Florida. Gov. Scott must comply with the law and end his racist purge."
June 11, 2012
From: Garlin Gilchrist II, MoveOn.org Political Action
Sent: Monday, June 11, 2012
To: Johnny Neumann
Subject: Jim Crow 2.0
Dear MoveOn member,
According to a prominent Friday Tampa Bay Times editorial, Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott is "standing between Floridians and their right to vote as U.S. citizens." He's the new George Wallace—the Alabama governor who defied the federal government in order to deny African Americans their rights as citizens 49 years ago this month.1
Gov. Wallace was the face of the original Jim Crow. Now, Gov. Scott is the face of Jim Crow 2.0, as he refuses to halt his Latino-targeted voter purge, in defiance of federal law and a Department of Justice order.
Gov. Scott's racist voter purge began nine months ago when Florida's Division of Elections began challenging the rights of 180,000 voters based on bad information, and with the election drawing nearer, it's coming to a head right now. When the Department of Justice called on Florida to end the program, Gov. Scott responded this past Wednesday that they would continue despite warnings that they may be in violation of federal law.2
Attorney General Eric Holder can block Gov. Scott from illegitimately kicking Floridians off the voter roll. Attorney General Holder has the authority to sue the state and block the purge because of the harm it does to Latino voters. He must act today to ensure that the courts strike this program down before it's too late—and we lose another election.
Will you sign our petition to Attorney General Holder? It says "Block Florida's racist voter purge program immediately." We'll deliver it to the attorney general at the Department of Justice headquarters in D.C. next week.
We've got to stop Gov. Scott and other state Republicans from stealing this election for Republicans. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 5 million votes will be suppressed this election, largely targeting people of color and youth, who tend to vote Democrat.3
So, the 537 Florida votes that elected George W. Bush in 2000 are now 5 million votes across 34 states suppressing the vote, which will elect Mitt Romney, along with a Republican House and Senate. Five million votes—if we don't stand up now, it'll be incredibly hard to win.
Thanks to analyses by The Miami Herald and other news outlets, we know that Democrats and Latinos were most likely to be targeted by the program.4 They've shown that Rick Scott's plan seeks to disenfranchise key blocs of Obama voters and threatens to tip a close election to Mitt Romney.
And beyond being a potential violation of the law, the racist voter purge is unpopular. Fifty percent of Floridians disapprove of the governor's program—a higher percentage than want their basketball team to win in the NBA Finals.5
While Florida's program is the worst, it's not the only state finding new ways to suppress votes. With racially stained voter ID laws that disproportionately impact people of color and low-income voters, we need the Department of Justice to be forceful and clear in its defense of voting rights everywhere. It's time to make an example out of Florida so vote suppressors everywhere know that if they come for our rights, there will be consequences.
MoveOn members always stand and fight when people in power threaten democracy. This year, the combination of big money flooding into our elections and coordinated voter suppression tactics mean that we've got to fight harder than ever before.
The next move is ours, and we're going all-in. We're preparing a public ad assault on the governor, using highly visible tactics to call this voter purge what it is: a racist attempt at disenfranchising Latino voters.
Thanks for all you're doing to step up.
–Garlin, Emily, Victoria, Elena, and the rest of the team
1. "Governor, halt the flawed
voter purge," The Tampa Bay Times, June 8, 2012
2. "Florida Voter Rules
Assailed By Judge, Justice Department," Bloomberg, June 1, 2012
3. "Voting Law Changes in
2012," Brennan Center for Justice, October 3, 2011
4. "Hispanics, Democrats
biggest groups on Florida's list of potential noncitizen voters,
shows," Tampa Bay Times, May 13, 2012
5. "Florida miscellany,"
Public Policy Polling, June 8, 2012
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TALLAHASSEE – Secretary of State Ken Detzner and the Florida Department of State today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for failing to meet its statutory obligation to provide access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE) database, a database of information necessary to confirm the status of potential non-citizens and help ensure the integrity of Florida elections.
"For nearly a year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has failed to meet its legal obligation to provide us the information necessary to identify and remove ineligible voters from Florida’s voter rolls,” said Secretary Detzner. “We can’t let the federal government delay our efforts to uphold the integrity of Florida elections any longer. We’ve filed a lawsuit to ensure the law is carried out and we are able to meet our obligation to keep the voter rolls accurate and current."
In 2011, the Florida Department of State received information from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles indicating that non-citizens may be registered to vote in Florida. However, while processing the new information, it became evident that the Department of State’s ability to validate a person’s legal status as up-to-date was limited. In order to validate such information, the department began seeking access to the SAVE database.
After nearly a year of requests for access to the SAVE database, the
federal government has shown no signs of meeting their legal
requirement to provide access. However, federal law expressly requires
the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to respond to state inquiries
seeking to verify or ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of
any individual within its jurisdiction for any purpose authorized by
law. Additionally, DHS recently stated that the SAVE database could be
used for voter registration purposes in a document published September
WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced today that it has
filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida and the Florida Secretary
of State in his official capacity alleging that the state has violated
its obligations under Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act
of 1993 (NVRA).
The complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, alleges that Florida has violated the NVRA by conducting a systematic program to purge voters from its voter registration rolls within the 90-day quiet period before an election for federal office established by the law. In addition, the complaint alleges that Florida’s use of inaccurate and unreliable voter verification procedures violates the requirement in Section 8 of the NVRA that any such program be uniform and nondiscriminatory.
“The Department of Justice has an overriding interest in protecting the rights of eligible citizens to register and vote free from unlawful burdens, while at the same time ensuring that ineligible persons do not register and vote in federal elections in violation of the law,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The department is committed to enforcing the National Voter Registration Act so that these objectives are met.”
The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring that the defendants have failed to comply with the requirements of Section 8 of the NVRA, and enjoining Florida from taking any further steps in connection with this list purge program.
“Congress enacted the NVRA against a historical backdrop in this country in which purge programs initiated close to elections prevented and deterred eligible citizens from casting ballots,” said Assistant Attorney General Perez. “The 90-day quiet period in the NVRA protects eligible voters from being dropped from the rolls right before an election. It appears that Florida has undertaken a new program for voter removal within this 90-day period that has critical imperfections, which lead to errors that harm and confuse eligible voters.”
More information about the NVRA and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/. Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.
Today a federal judge rejected a Department of Justice request to issue a temporary restraining order blocking Florida from removing non-citizens from the voter rolls and rejected DOJ’s argument that the National Voter Registration Act prohibits removal of non-citizens from the voter rolls. The court also said that permitting known non-citizens to vote would result in “irreparable harm” to eligible voters.
Florida Governor Rick Scott was pleased with the decision, which is consistent with his position that Florida has an obligation to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls.
“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. Today’s ruling puts the burden on the federal government to provide Florida with access to the Department of Homeland Security’s citizenship database. 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. The federal government has the power to prevent such irreparable harm from continuing, and Florida once again implores them to grant access to the SAVE database.”
Nearly a year ago, the state requested access to a citizenship database, maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, that would allow Florida to more accurately identify non-citizens who are registered to vote. To date, the federal government continues to block access, thereby preventing Florida’s efforts to ensure fair elections.
TALLAHASSEE – Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner and the Florida Department of State (DOS) have received a commitment from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that Florida will be able to access the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE) database. The SAVE database is the most accurate and comprehensive resource available to verify the status of potential non-citizens on Florida’s voter rolls, making it an important tool to ensure voter rolls are current and accurate.
"I am very pleased that the federal government has committed to giving us the access necessary to identify noncitizens on the voter rolls and make sure these ineligible voters cannot cast a ballot," said Secretary Detzner. "Florida voters are counting on their state and federal governments to cooperate in a way that ensures elections are fair, beginning with ensuring the voter rolls are current and accurate. Now, we have a commitment to cooperate from DHS and we look forward to a partnership that improves our election process."
On June 11, 2012, DOS filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for failing to provide access to the SAVE database for nearly a year. Federal law expressly requires DHS to respond to state inquiries seeking to verify or ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of any individual within its jurisdiction for any purpose authorized by law.
In a separate lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) against DOS, a federal judge recently upheld Florida’s right to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls whenever they are identified, despite DOJ claims to the contrary. Furthermore, the judge said that the state and federal government should work together because non-citizens voting in Florida’s elections constitutes "irreparable harm" to Florida and its voters.
In 2011, the Florida Department of State received information from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles indicating that non-citizens may be registered to vote in Florida. However, while processing the new information, it became evident that the Department of State’s ability to validate a person’s current legal status using state-level resources alone was limited. In order to validate this information, the department sought access to the SAVE database.
Contact: Chris Cate
Tallahassee, Florida – "We're very pleased another federal court has ruled that Florida's efforts to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls are lawful and in the best interest of Florida voters. Ensuring ineligible voters can’t cast a ballot is a fundamental aspect of conducting fair elections.
"The Florida Department of State has an obligation to ensure Florida's voter rolls are current and accurate, which means removing ineligible voters when they are identified."
Excerpts from the Court Order:
"Certainly, the NVRA does not require the State to idle on the sidelines until a non-citizen violates the law before the State can act. And surely the NVRA does not require the State to wait until after that critical juncture—when the vote has been cast and the harm has been fully realized—to address what it views as nothing short of 'voter fraud.' "
"The Court finds that the Secretary has a compelling interest in ensuring that the voting rights of citizens are not diluted by the casting of votes by non-citizens."
ed. note: Arcia v. Detzner continued to be
litigated into 2014.