Florida says it will defy an order from the US justice department to stop purging its voter roll of people the state claims may not be American citizens. The justice department has warned that the practice, which critics describe as “voter suppression” by Florida’s Republican administration aimed at stripping the ballot from people more likely to support Democrats, is illegal under federal laws. It has given the state until Wednesday to agree to halt the purge, something officials in Florida say they have no intention of doing. Federal authorities say that the state is obliged to get justice department approval for changes to its voting laws under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was introduced to end practices that prevented African Americans from exercising their democratic right in many southern states. The justice department also said that the purge appears to violate a federal law stopping voters being removed from the rolls less than 90 days before an election. Florida holds primaries in mid-August. But Chris Cate, a spokesman for the Florida secretary of state, said the purge will continue.
“We have a year-round obligation to make sure the voter rolls are accurate. We are going to continue forward and do everything that we can legally do to make sure that ineligible voters cannot vote,” he said. The justice department move comes after the attorney general, Eric Holder, last week warned that gains of the civil rights struggle hang in the balance in the face of a determined effort by many states to roll back laws ensuring the right to vote.