TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- June 27, 2012 -
A federal judge is rejecting a request to block Florida's controversial move to remove potentially ineligible voters.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle on Wednesday ruled that the state can identify and remove voters who may not be U.S. citizens even if it is close to the upcoming Aug. 14 election.
But state officials during the hearing said they have voluntarily stopped the voter purge.
State officials already asked local election supervisors to check out the citizenship status of more than 2,600 voters but the state has also drawn up a list of 180,000 voters. A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott said the state will not distribute that list unless the state first can check the names against a federal immigration database.
Most counties in Florida had already stopped removing voters.
Court: “Irreparable Harm” If Non-Citizens Allowed to Vote
Governor's Press Office
Tallahassee, Fla. – Today a federal judge rejected a Department of Justice request to issue a temporary restraining order blocking Florida from removing non-citizens from the voter rolls and rejected DOJ’s argument that the National Voter Registration Act prohibits removal of non-citizens from the voter rolls. The court also said that permitting known non-citizens to vote would result in “irreparable harm” to eligible voters.
Florida Governor Rick Scott was pleased with the decision, which is consistent with his position that Florida has an obligation to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls.
“The court made a common-sense decision consistent with what I’ve been saying all along: that irreparable harm will result if non-citizens are allowed to vote. Today’s ruling puts the burden on the federal government to provide Florida with access to the Department of Homeland Security’s citizenship database. We know from just a small sample that an alarming number of non-citizens are on the voter rolls and many of them have illegally voted in past elections. The federal government has the power to prevent such irreparable harm from continuing, and Florida once again implores them to grant access to the SAVE database.”
Nearly a year ago, the state requested access to a citizenship database, maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, called the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, that would allow Florida to more accurately identify non-citizens who are registered to vote. To date, the federal government continues to block access, thereby preventing Florida’s efforts to ensure fair elections.
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 27, 2012
Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
A federal judge who struck down part of a controversial state elections law will hold a hearing Wednesday morning on whether to issue a temporary restraining order in a separate case concerning a state-ordered voter purge.
The U.S. Department of Justice has asked U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to bar elections officials from removing any suspected non-citizens from the rolls by using an inaccurate state database at the center of the effort. The state argues that no voters are currently in danger of being pushed off and that the courts should wait to rule on the case.
Wednesday's arguments will mark the first major courtroom battle in a complicated legal fight over the purge. The Justice Department has sued the state over the initiative, saying it violates the National Voter Registration Act and that Florida should have sought permission from federal officials.
All major changes to election procedures have to be approved under the Voting Rights Act before going into effect in five counties with a history of voting discrimination.
At the same time, the state has sued the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to gain access to a federal database that elections officials say would make the purge more accurate. DHS says the state hasn't provided it with enough information to use the database.
In its brief in the purge case, the Department of Justice argues that the voter purge runs afoul of a provision of the NVRA that bars removing voters from the rolls for all but a handful of reasons in the 90 days before a federal election. The state's primaries are scheduled for Aug. 14.
"In light of the foregoing, the state cannot ignore the requirements of the NVRA simply because it disagrees with the balance Congress struck between the need for accurate and current voter rolls and protections to prevent harms to voters caused by voter removal programs," the filing says.
But the state has fired back, saying that the program has effectively been stalled by the questions about its legality, meaning that an emergency order by the court isn't necessary. And it vigorously defends the scrubbing of the rolls.
"DOJ?s newfound haste in seeking a TRO is completely unwarranted, as defendants are not currently taking any action that could cause any injury to voters, let alone irreparable injury," the state argued in its response. "At best, DOJ?s request for a TRO appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the facts, which could have been avoided had it engaged in the required conferral with defendants."
The federal government says it did notify the state that it would ask for the restraining order.
Lawyers for the state also argued that the portion of the law that lists the reasons for removing voters from the rolls in the 90-day timeframe also bars removal of voters for any reason except for those listed or an address change.
"In short, on any reading of the NVRA, a state may either remove non-citizens from the rolls at any time, or not at all," the filing says. "It is self-evident which of these results Congress intended."
Hinkle has already ruled against the state in one case that is part of a months-long battle over voter registration ahead of a November presidential election in which Florida's electoral votes could be key. He struck down portions of a law regulating voter-registration organizations, most notably a provision requiring voter registration forms to be returned to elections officials within 48 hours of being filled out
The state could still appeal that decision.