Voting rights groups to Florida: Stop purging voters

?Cleaning up voter rolls should be done with the utmost care and by following the law,? said Ben Hovland, Senior Counsel for the Fair Elections Legal Network. ?There are already laws on the books that adequately address any attempt to register or vote illegally. However, this program places the burden of proof on voters. Eligible citizens who do not respond may be purged from the voter rolls and risk losing his or her vote. Florida should stop this effort immediately and restore the voting rights of anyone that has been affected by this faulty matching program.?

In a press release, the coalition says that federal law requires that any program designed to remove ineligible voters from the rolls must be completed no later than 90 days before a primary or general election for federal office. The press release also stated that "Florida?s next presidential primary is scheduled to take place on August 14, which is within that 90-day window." (However Josh Spaulding with the Fair Elections Legal Network acknowledges that was incorrect. August 14 is a federal and state primary, but not a presidential primary).

?The law is very clear, and there is a reason it requires voter purges to be completed well in advance of an election,? explains Catherine M. Flanagan, director of the Election Administration Program for Project Vote. ?It is to provide the time necessary for election officials to verify their information and for wrongfully removed eligible voters to correct the mistake."

Division of Elections spokesman Chris Cate disagrees with that interpretation. Dara Kam from the Palm Beach Post quotes him:

?We just received the letter, but we?ve had it long enough to know we disagree with their interpretation of the law. Not only do we believe it?s crucial to have ineligible voters removed from the voter rolls, we?re obligated by law to do it,? Cate said in an e-mail. Detzner?s office will be sending a formal response to the coalition, Cate said, noting that the presidential primary was in January, not in August as the groups said in their letter.

Division of Elections officials say the purge actually began a year ago when they learned they had access to the driver?s license database and its citizenship information. Since 2010, Floridians have had to show proof of legal status when applying for a driver's license.

But the problem came when it was discovered that the state was using an outdated driver's license database. Some of the initial 2,7000 people on the initial list included those born in the U.S.

Many of the groups up in arms today are still angry at the elections law passed by the Florida Legislature in 2011, which reduced the time period in which third-party groups could submit new voter registrations to local Supervisor of Elections offices from 10 days to 48 hours.

  • The Brennan Center in NY doesn't approve of voting purges

Over the past week it's been reported that the state is undertaking a purge of the voting rolls, which no doubt caused Florida Democrats to ask: Again?

For those of you with short memories, there was that little snafu back in the extremely loud and incredibly close election of 2000 — the one in which state election officials and a private contractor called ChoicePoint did an ill-advised scrubbing of the rolls that wrongly disenfranchised thousands of voters.

In a directive led by Rick Scott, Florida election officials have been trying this year to clear the voting rolls of non-citizens. Last week officials said they would use information from a federal database to check a list of 182,000 voters who they suspect are not citizens.

Democrats have objected, and on Thursday a host of civil and voting rights groups — Project Vote, Fair Elections Legal Network, the Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition — sent a letter to Secretary of State Ken Dentzler alerting him that Florida’s plan to identify and remove alleged non-citizens from the voter rolls violates federal law and must cease immediately.

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