Department of Justice Supports ACLU Suit to stop Florida's Inaccurate and Illegal Voter Purge
U.S. cites ‘strong interest’ in ensuring Voting Rights Act is ‘vigorously and uniformly enforced’
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TAMPA – On Friday, July 27th, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) submitted a “Statement of Interest” to the U.S. District Court in Tampa in support of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Florida (ACLUFL) and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law seeking to halt the State’s controversial voter purge.
“The State of Florida has adopted a new database matching program that results in registered voters being removed from the voter rolls,” the Justice Department’s statement to the federal court reads. “This new practice has not been submitted for administrative or judicial preclearance pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and despite a lack of preclearance, the change has been implemented in Florida’s covered counties subject to Section 5.”
“This is precisely why Congress has re-enacted, and why we continue to need, the Voting Rights Act – to prevent state officials from interfering with the constitutional rights of minorities,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of ACLUFL. “We now look to the courts to stop the Scott administration from assaulting democracy by denying American citizens the right to vote.
“What this case is really about is the Scott Administration’s repeated contempt for the requirements of the Voting Rights Act,” Simon added. “Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote, and that right is under attack in Florida.”
Five Florida counties are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and any change in voting policies, laws or procedure in those five counties requires federal approval – or “preclearance” – before they can be implemented. In asking the Court to deny the Governor’s motion to dismiss the suit, the United States cites “a strong interest in ensuring Section 5 is vigorously and uniformly enforced.”
Despite a recent claim by the Scott Administration that they successfully sued the Department of Homeland Security for access to the Department’s SAVE database, a newly submitted amended Complaint by the ACLUFL and others, as well as the DOJ’s statement of interest, still hold that Florida has violated federal law by not seeking preclearance before moving forward with the purge process.
Serious concerns about the accuracy and targeting of the purge arose in an analysis revealing that 61% of those on the purge list are Hispanic while only 14% of registered Florida voters are Hispanic. In a June 11th letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, DOJ criticizes the State’s purge warned it has “critical imperfections which lead to errors that harm and confuse eligible voters.” The same letter goes on to warn Florida to “immediately cease this unlawful conduct.”
Since the State of Florida initiated the voter purge in May 2012, several local elections officials have refused to send letters based on the State’s flawed information and based on advice the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. A district court in Tallahassee last month denied a request by the U.S. to halt the purge because Secretary Detzner claimed to have abandoned it. The court warned, however, “If the Secretary or the supervisors of elections go forward with the program… the issue can be revisited.”
“The state of Florida is violating federal law by subjecting citizens to this new and unnecessary voting procedure without seeking preclearance as required by the Voting Rights Act,” said Julie Ebenstein, ACLUFL Staff Attorney.
A copy of the amended complaint filed by the ACLUFL on July 27th can be found here: http://media.aclufl.org/2012-06-11Voting%20Rights%20-%20D.E.%2020.pdf
A copy of DOJ’s statement of interest submitted to the court on June 27th can be found here: http://media.aclufl.org/2012-06-11DOJ’s%20statement%20of%20interest.pdf
A copy of the June 6th letter from DOJ to Secretary of State Detzner can be found here: http://media.aclufl.org/2012-06-11%20DOJ%20letter%20to%20Florida.pdf
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