Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is positioning itself for a showdown with the U.S. Department of Justice for demanding that Florida cease searching for and purging noncitizen voters. The DOJ gave Florida until Wednesday to respond to a letter, sent last week, that said the purge probably ran afoul of two federal voting laws. Florida will respond, but it probably won’t quit its effort and will likely ask the DOJ to clarify its interpretation of the federal laws it cited. “Our letter will address the issues raised by DOJ while emphasizing the importance of having accurate voter rolls,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who’s in charge of the state’s elections division. Cate would neither confirm nor deny what was in the state’s response, but he acknowledged that the state disagrees with the federal government and doesn’t plan to throw in the towel. “We know we’ve been acting responsibly,” he said.
If Scott’s administration stares down the DOJ, it will only heighten the partisan feud over the voter rolls in the nation’s largest swing state. Liberals will protest at what they call “voter suppression” because so many of the targeted potential noncitizens — 87 percent — are minorities. Conservatives will cheer a Republican who opposes what they see as one of the most-politicized agencies under President Barack Obama, DOJ’s voting section. Some want Scott to force the DOJ to sue. A DOJ spokesman refused comment.
If the state pushes ahead, its defiance or resistance might be more symbolic than actual. The attempted purge has been put on hold in nearly all 67 counties after the DOJ demanded the effort cease. Also, the state-produced list of nearly 2,700 suspected noncitizen voters was generated with some outdated data, targeing hundreds of actual citizens who are lawful voters. So far, no one has been purged who has not admitted that he or she is a noncitizen. Without the counties, the purge effort can’t go on because the 67 independent supervisors are in charge of voter rolls in each of their counties. The state is, in one sense, just the custodian of all those records.