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Déjà Vu All Over Again: Florida’s Latest Attempt to Purge Voters from the Rolls

Katie O'Connor,
Voting Rights Project
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June 8, 2012

The ACLU and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights filed suit today in federal district court in Florida challenging the state’s latest attack on voting rights: purging voters from voter registration rolls.

In May of this year, Secretary of State Ken Detzer distributed nearly 2,700 names for removal from the voter registration rolls, claiming that those voters on the list were not U.S. citizens. The list is fraught with inaccuracies and false positives. In Florida’s most populous county, Miami-Dade, where about 1,600 of the 2,700 ”ineligible” voters are registered, nearly 500 of the targeted voters have already proven to be lawfully registered U.S. citizens. That’s more than a 30 percent error rate.

When I first read that Secretary Detzer had generated lists containing over 180,000 names of potentially ineligible voters, and had circulated lists containing nearly 2,700 of those names to county supervisors of elections for removal from the voter rolls, I could have sworn I was just having a bad dream. We’ve been through this before.

In 2000, Florida’s then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris ordered the removal of over 57,700 “ineligible” voters from the voter rolls, claiming that the voters were ex-felons and ineligible to vote. Merely months later, Florida became the swing state that decided the election by a miniscule 537 votes. The months following the election proved that the “scrub” list that was distributed by the Secretary of State was riddled with errors and had disfranchised up to 12,000 legally registered voters, 41 percent of whom were African-American. These eligible voters were unable to vote in the 2000 presidential election because the state insisted on a poorly planned and ill-advised pre-election purge of voting rolls.

Skip to 2012, and Florida is at it again. Secretary Detzer’s list again disproportionately impacts racial and language minorities. In fact, according to analysis, 61 percent of those on the purge list are Hispanic, while only 14 percent of registered Florida voters are Hispanic. By contrast, only 16 percent of those on the state’s purge list are identified as white, even though whites compose approximately 70 percent of all Florida voters.

Unwilling to see the error of its ways, and unable to learn from its past mistakes, Florida has bucked the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) warning regarding the legality of this purge. The DOJ notified the state last week, quite accurately, that the new purge procedures have not been precleared as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Every vote matters and every vote counts; that’s what a democracy is all about. Recent history has shown that elections are won by the narrowest of margins. And with November only a few months away, we can’t afford to push people out of the electorate and deprive them of their most fundamental right.

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