Florida weighs warning against voter purge

Sat Jun 2, 2012 4:47pm EDT

Voters in the Florida Republican presidential primary are shown at a polling place in Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton, Florida, January 31, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Voters in the Florida Republican presidential primary are shown at a polling place in Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton, Florida, January 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper

(Reuters) - Florida, a key electoral battleground where the 2000 presidential election was decided by a few hundred ballots, will decide in the coming days whether to heed a Justice Department warning to stop its campaign to purge ineligible voters, a state spokesman said on Saturday.

The warning issued this week by the head of the Justice Department's voting section said the effort appeared to violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities. It demanded a response by Wednesday.

A spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the state must make certain that only eligible voters cast ballots.

"We have a year-round obligation to ensure the integrity of Florida's elections. We will be responding to (the Justice Department's) concerns next week," Chris Cate said in an email message.

Cate said in a subsequent telephone call that the state was still formulating its response.

Polls show Florida will be closely contested between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the outcome could swing the November 6 election.

A mere 537 Florida votes decided the 2000 election in favor of Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore, amid charges from both sides that some people were unable to vote, some votes were uncounted, or were counted incorrectly.

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided the contest in a ruling that halted the recount process.

Supporters of Florida's voter scrub, conducted by the administration of Republican Governor Rick Scott, say it is aimed at clearing voter registration rolls of non-citizens. But critics call it part of longstanding Republican efforts to deter minorities and the poor, who tend to vote Democratic, from casting ballots.

2,700 VOTERS SUSPECTED

In its letter to Detzner on Thursday, the Justice Department also said the effort seemed to violate the 1993 National Voter Registration Act and its rules for maintaining "accurate and current" voter registration lists "in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner."

The purge effort, begun in April, compares lists of registered voters with driver's license records that contain information on citizenship. Critics contend the information can be out of date as many people become citizens after they get their driver's licenses or state IDs.

So far the state has identified about 2,700 voters as suspicious and sent them letters demanding they produce proof of citizenship to avoid being stricken from the voter rolls.

According to the Miami Herald, Florida's current list of potential non-citizen voters includes many people who are lawful citizens. One voter singled out as suspicious turned out to be a Brooklyn-born World War Two hero with a Bronze Star from the Battle of the Bulge.

About 58 percent on the list were Hispanics - Florida's largest ethnic immigrant population. Whites and Republicans were least likely to face being purged from the rolls, the newspaper said.

Civil rights groups say Florida has a long history of voter roll tampering and manipulation. Most recently, in 2000 and 2004, it tried purging convicted felons from the rolls using what were found to be inaccurate lists that kept ballots out of the hands of black voters - who tend to vote Democratic.

(Reporting By Andrew Stern and Tom Brown; Editing by Xavier Briand)

(This story has been corrected following an official correction with Florida spokesman saying state still formulating response)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (278)
urza wrote:
So after reading this article it seems as if democrats are only supported by felons and non-citizens. Is that really the image we want to have? Isn’t this something the republicans can throw in our faces in order to appeal to the undecided voter? If anything we should be there to make sure it’s done fairly and properly,and not blindly with a brad brush.

Jun 02, 2012 3:40pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ExRepublican2 wrote:
TAX THE WEALTHY RICH, It works! There will be funds to create jobs, sent students to colleges, defense for our country!!! It really works… TAX THE WEALTHY RICH!!! Taxing the working class of Americans just doesn’t provide enough funds to stimulate the U.S. economy. Greed has overtaken common sense, back when businesses paid taxes and not seek loop holes. Politicians are blind when towns and other states officals give big businesses property tax breaks for 5 to 10 years just to acquire them. That is morally wrong and should be illegal. It gets worst, after their tax exemption of five or ten years expires, they threaten to move away if the towns or states don’t extend their tax exemption. Tax breaks for big businesses needs to be outlaw by every State in the Union. This is the only way to break the ‘No Tax Cycle’ of big businesses, which are financially hurting states and towns with their perfected method! With the town officials passing the tax burden onto them with higher property taxes, this will financially hurt everyone. And, now those towns are worried about the failing infrastructure? Stop the madness because everyone has to pay taxes!!! If every state agreed to stop this nonsense, the US would be in the best financial economic shape and with the greatest infrastructure for commerce.

Jun 02, 2012 3:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
mutt3003 wrote:
Hell no…… You cannot purge ILLEGALS and felons. How would the loser-in-chief get reelected? Three cheers to Florida. Every state should be obligated to do the same thing.

Jun 02, 2012 4:07pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.