Florida Governor Rick Scott lost a federal court bid to throw out a challenge to his initiative to purge non-citizens from voter registration rolls ahead of the Nov. 6 presidential election. U.S. District Judge James Whittemore in Tampa today ruled Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and two state residents may proceed with a complaint alleging the program requires pre- clearance under the Voting Rights Act. Florida is one of 16 jurisdictions with a history of voting rights violations that, under the act, must obtain pre-approval of some laws by either the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges.
The lawsuit was initially filed over Florida’s plan to use a motor vehicle database to identify non-citizens in its voter registration system. The state later opted to use a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services database, which the plaintiffs also contend needs to be cleared under the federal voting law. The allegations “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,” Whittemore said in the ruling allowing the lawsuit to stand. The judge wrote that he will rule at a later date on whether the state effort to purge voter rolls is subject to the federal voting law.
Florida, with about 11.5 million voters, is among a handful of states that both the campaigns of President Barack Obama and ex-Governor Mitt Romney see as winnable. Florida’s attempt to purge non-citizens from voter rolls, championed by Scott, a Republican, suffered a setback this month when a list of ineligible voters was cut by more than 2,000 residents to about 200 after the state received access to federal immigration data.