Dueling lawsuits: Florida vs. the Department of Justice

Florida is currently engaged in two lawsuits with the federal government over the issue of purging names from lists of voters. In an effort to reduce voter fraud, election officials have relied on a database, which consists of driver’s license numbers, to eliminate ineligible voters (non-citizens) from eligible voting lists. The problem is that many of the people who would-be purged have been able to show proof of citizenship.

Since letters (requiring affirmations of ineligibility or proof of citizenship within 30 days) were sent out, over 500 (out of 2,700) citizens have been able to produce evidence of citizenship. As a result, Florida has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for access to the federal immigration list, so that voter purging can be conducted more accurately, but this request has been denied. The Department of Homeland Security refused access, claiming that such use would not be appropriate. Florida has initiated suit to demand access to the database.

But that's not all. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice filed suit against Florida for violating the National Voting Rights Act of 1993 and Voter Rights Act of 1965. The DOJ is alleging that Florida’s practice of purging names from lists of ineligible voters is discriminatory -- 58% of the individuals on the list are Latinos -- and that the removal of names of ineligible voters will not be complete by 90 days before a federal primary or general election, which violates the NVRA.

Department of Justice v. Florida

The DOJ is claiming that these voter purges violate the NVRA and the VRA.  The Voter Rights Act was passed in an effort to combat discrimination (such as requiring literacy tests) when voting at the polls. Whenever there has been a history of voter discrimination in a state, as there was in Florida, the state is required to have the DOJ pre-clear any changes made with respect to voting. Therefore, Florida was required to make sure that its practice of voter purging was constitutional. Well, they're trying. The civil rights lawyer for the Department of Justice, T. Christian Herren, Jr. said they would have to prove, in court, that the proposed purges "neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group." (Read more here).

In contrast, Florida election officials contend that merely removing ineligible voters is not discriminatory. Additionally, Florida governor Rick Scott maintains that the process of removing ineligible voters is necessary. "What we've found is noncitizens voting, noncitizens registered to vote. I cannot sit here, as governor of this state, and not enforce our law. It's a crime and dilutes the right of U.S. citizens to vote."

Of the 67 counties in Florida, many have halted voter purges. Christina White, an official from the Miami-Dade Elections Department, said, "No removal action will take place until the State conducts a more comprehensive vetting process against current, credible and reliable data sources."