Florida’s noncitizen voter purge looks like it’s all but over. The 67 county elections supervisors — who have final say over voter purges —are not moving forward with the purge for now because nearly all of them don’t trust the accuracy of a list of nearly 2,700 potential noncitizens identified by the state’s elections office.The U.S. Department of Justice has ordered the state to stop the purge. “We’re just not going to do this,” said Leon County’s elections supervisor, Ion Sancho, one of the most outspoken of his peers. “I’ve talked to many of the other supervisors and they agree. The list is bad. And this is illegal.” So far, more than 500 have been identified as citizens and lawful voters on the voter rolls. About 40 people statewide have been identified as noncitizens. At least four might have voted and could be guilty of a third-degree felony. The eligibility of about 2,000 have not been identified one way or the other.
Florida’s ever-escalating voting wars (see hereand here) have seen two big developments recently. First: Last week, a judge blocked most of Florida’s aggressive new restrictions on how groups can register voters. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle argued in his opinion that the time limits and penalties thrust onto groups like the League of Women Voters, which ultimately caused them to famously shut down their voter registration drive in the state, was unconstitutional:
Together speech and voting are constitutional rights of special significance; they are the rights most protective of all others, joined in this respect by the ability to vindicate one’s rights in a federal court. … [W]hen a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever. And allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives—thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote—promotes democracy.
That decision led the League and Rock the Vote to announce this week that they wereresuming their voter registration drives in the battleground state.
Stricter ID laws and other controversial voting restrictions, passed this year by several Republican-controlled legislatures, are hitting legal roadblocks that could keep many of the measures from taking effect before the November elections. Curbs on early voting, new ID requirements and last-minute efforts to rid voter lists of noncitizens have been met with vigorous opposition from the Justice Department and civil rights groups, and in some cases, the provisions have been blocked by federal or state judges. “There has been a real push-back by the courts to these widespread efforts to restrict the vote,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, which opposes the new laws. “If those seeking to suppress the vote won round one, round two seems to be going to the voters.”
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.
An association of Florida elections supervisors has recommended that members hold off on purging voter rolls until the state settles its dispute with the Justice Department over whether the action is legal. Based “upon the previous issues that have been presented concerning the list, as well as the fact that the Department has indicated its intent to take further actions to review its list to determine its validity,” Ron Labasky of Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections wrote in a memo that his recommendation was that Supervisors of Elections “cease any further action until the issues were raised by the Department of Justice are resolved between the parties or by a Court.” DOJ asked Florida to say by Wednesday whether they would cease trying to purge their voter list. Justice Department officials contended that federal law doesn’t allow voters to be removed from the polls within 90 days of an election and that changes to the process Florida uses to remove voters must be cleared under the Voting Rights Act.
As both parties turn to the general election, and the potentially pivotal role of minority voters, battles over voter identification and other new state election laws are intensifying. Voting rights groups, who say the new laws discriminate against minority voters, won a key victory Thursday with a federal judge’s decision to strike down portions of a Florida law that tightened rules for third-party groups that register voters. In his opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle said:
“Together speech and voting are constitutional rights of special significance; they are the rights most protective of all others, joined in this respect by the ability to vindicate one’s rights in a federal court. …[W]hen a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever … And allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives — thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote — promotes democracy.”
Local election administrators form the front line in protecting voters from disenfranchisement. It was certainly welcome news that the Department of Justice sent a letter last week to Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner to remind him of federal law prohibiting the Sunshine State from purging the voter rolls so close to an election. Voters and the courts also make a tremendous difference in the fight against state policies that could make it harder formillions of eligible Americans to vote. After seeing a wave of restrictive voting laws sweep the nation in the last year or so — the worst since the Jim Crow era — push back against these new but regressive policies is occurring across the country, from Maine to Texas andWisconsin to South Carolina. The quiet heroes in the Florida purge story, however, may be those fastidious local supervisors of elections who have committed themselves to protecting voters, following federal law, and publicly stating their opposition to sloppy purge practices. In mid-May, Detzner issued a press release announcing that he had a list of 182,000 people who were on the voter rolls, but ineligible to vote because they were non-citizens. Reports of similar lists for allegedly deceased voters and voters with criminal convictions soon surfaced. There is no dispute that our voter registration lists should be clean and accurate. However, the methodological problems with these types of purges and the proximity to the August primary generated abundant criticism. The almost immediate influx of stories of eligible Americans being incorrectly identified as non-citizens lent fuel to the fire, and many local supervisors of elections publicly criticized the planned purge.
Florida: State will defy order to stop purging voter list amid calls of ‘suppression’ | guardian.co.uk
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.
Editorials: Florida voters purge: A ham-handed solution to a problem that doesn’t exist | Orlando Sentinel
Bill Internicola had to show his papers. He received a letter last month from the Broward County, Fla., Supervisor of Elections informing him the office had “information from the state of Florida that you are not a United States citizen; however, you are registered to vote.” So Internicola had to prove he is an American. He sent the county a copy of his Army discharge papers. Internicola is 91 years old. He was born in Brooklyn. He is a veteran of the Second World War. He earned a Bronze Star for his part in the Battle of the Bulge. Yet he was required to prove to a county functionary that he is entitled to vote in an American election. We learn from reporter Amy Sherman’s story last week in The Miami Herald that this is part of a campaign by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, to weed non-citizens off the rolls of the state’s voters. Initially, Florida claimed 180,000 were possible non-citizens. That number was eventually whittled way down to about 2,600 people. In Miami-Dade County, where the largest number of them live, 385 have been verified as citizens. Ten – 10! – have admitted they are ineligible or asked to be removed from the rolls. The Herald recently analyzed the list and found it dominated by Democrats, independents and Hispanics. Republicans and non-Hispanic whites were least likely to have their voting rights challenged.
Florida elections supervisors said Friday they will discontinue a state-directed effort to remove names from county voter rolls because they believe the state data is flawed and because the U.S. Department of Justice has said the process violates federal voting laws. Late Thursday, the Department of Justice sent Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner a letter telling him that an effort launched by Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration last year to remove the names of people believed to be non-citizens from voter rolls appears to violate at least two federal voting laws. The federal agency gave Detzner until Wednesday to respond. The Justice Department letter and mistakes that the 67 county elections supervisors have found in the state list make the scrub undoable, said Martin County Elections Supervisor Vicki Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. “There are just too many variables with this entire process at this time for supervisors to continue,” Davis said.
Florida: Part of controversial Florida voter registration law struck down; votor roll purge ordered halted | Bradenton Herald
A federal judge Thursday struck down a key part of Florida’s recently revamped election laws, saying the Legislature’s restrictions have made it “risky business” for third-party groups to register new voters. Hours later, the Justice Department ordered Florida’s elections division to halt a systematic effort to find and purge the state’s rolls of noncitizen voters. Florida’s effort appears to violate both the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities, and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act — which governs voter purges — T. Christian Herren Jr., the Justice Department’s lead civil rights lawyer, wrote in a detailed two-page letter sent late Thursday night. State officials said they were reviewing the letter. But they indicated they might fight the Justice Department over its interpretation of federal law and expressed frustration that President Barack Obama’s administration has stonewalled the state’s noncitizen voter hunt for nine months.
Florida’s proposed elimination of non-U.S. citizens from its voter rolls is necessary to preventing voter fraud, a spokesman for the state’s Division of Elections said Friday after the U.S. Department of Justice called into question the legality of the action. The so-called “voter purge” would remove names from Florida’s voter rolls months before the 2012 presidential election, when Florida will play a key role as a battleground state with a large chunk of electoral votes. In a statement, Chris Cate said the decision to remove names from the list was essential to preventing non-citizens from casting ballots illegally. “The Department of State has a duty under both state and federal laws to ensure that Florida’s voter registration rolls are current and accurate. Therefore, identifying ineligible voters is something we are always doing,” Cate wrote. He added that the action was not meant to prevent minority voters from voting.
A top lawyer for the Justice Department’s civil rights division wants Florida officials to explain why they’ve unilaterally decided to purge the state’s voter rolls of non-U.S. citizens just months before a key primary in the 2012 elections — an apparent violation of provisions in the landmark Voting Rights Act. In a two-page letter, T. Christian Herren, chief lawyer for Justice’s Voting Rights division, told Florida’s secretary of state that officials’ decision to comb the rolls for foreign nationals was launched without consulting Attorney General Eric Holder or asking permission from a federal court, long-standing requirements under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Further, Herren writes, the state hasn’t officially justified why it launched the scrub, which activists say is haphazard, subjective and disproportionately hurts minority voters. At the same time, the practice is happening less than 90 days before an upcoming statewide election, which “appears to violate the National Voter Registration Act,” Herren said. “Please advise whether the state intends to cease the practice … so the [Justice Department] can determine what further action, if any, is necessary.”
The Justice Department sent a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner Thursday evening demanding the state cease purging its voting rolls because the process it is using has not been cleared under the Voting Rights Act. DOJ also said that Florida’s voter roll purge violated the National Voter Registration Act, which stipulates that voter roll maintenance should have ceased 90 days before an election, which given Florida’s August 14 primary, meant May 16. Five of Florida’s counties are subject to the Voting Rights Act, but the state never sought permission from either the Justice Department or a federal court to implement its voter roll maintenance program. Florida officials said they were trying to remove non-citizens from the voting rolls, but a flawed process led to several U.S. citizens being asked to prove their citizenship status or be kicked off the rolls.
The Alaska Redistricting Board on Friday submitted the redistricting plan it adopted with the Alaska Supreme Court’s approval to the U.S. Department of Justice. The board is seeking required federal approval, known as “pre-clearance,” that the plan does not diminish Native voting power. The plan it submitted, the Amended Proclamation Plan, was adopted after much debate and legal action. The Supreme Court had earlier issued a surprise ruling the board was to draft a plan without consideration of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Bill Internicola is a 91-year-old, Brooklyn-born, World War II veteran. He fought in the Battle of the Buldge and received the Bronze Star for bravery. He’s voted in Florida for 14 years and never had a problem. Three weeks ago, Bill received a letter from Broward County Florida stating “[Y]ou are not a U.S. Citizen” and therefore, ineligible to vote. He was given the option of requesting “a hearing with the Supervisor of Elections, for the purpose of providing proof that you are a United States citizens” or forfeit his right to vote. This decorated World War II veteran is just one of hundreds of fully eligible U.S. citizens being targeted by Governor Scott’s massive voter purge just prior to this year’s election, according to data obtained from Florida election officials by ThinkProgress.
The Shelby County Election Commission is accused of deleting the voting records of 488 people who are mostly African-American and Democrat. Congressman Steve Cohen is calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the matter, all while the Elections Commission says there’s no problem at all. Administrator Richard Holden volunteered to show us the database. He said all the names and voting records are there. A blogger accused the commission of deleting the records of 488 voters, to perhaps, prevent them from voting. “I don`t have any records of ever providing data to anyone who lives in Seattle,” said Holden.
Florida: Voter Purge, Minority Voting Rights Flashpoints Of New Showdown In Florida | Huffington Post
Florida officials made it clear Friday that the state will continue to purge as many as 182,000 suspected noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls — despite a coalition’s call to stop the process or prepare for court. In the last three weeks alone, the Florida secretary of state’s office has identified and started to purge what it says are at least 50,000 dead voters from the state’s rolls and stripped out about 7,000 convicted felons. Officials at the same time are defending a more controversial plan to remove as many as 182,000 suspected noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls. “Florida has a very shameful history of purging minority voters based on false information before presidential elections,” said Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, director of voter protection projects for the Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to protect voter rights. The Advancement Project is one of the five organizations in the coalition that warned Florida last week to discontinue plans to purge alleged noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls. It also called on the Department of Justice to temporarily halt the purge and investigate the state’s actions. “What’s happening now, is not only illegal but it’s inaccurate, Culliton-Gonzalez said. “There are actual citizens on these lists. So, what’s happening is completely counter to the fundamental principals of our democracy.”
Tennessee: “Erased Voters’ Gaffe May Force Changes by Shelby County Election Commission | Memphis Flyer
Whether it’s a case of a blind squirrel finding real acorns or a maligned activist coming into her own with important revelations, new questions raised about the Shelby County Election Commission by controversial Seattle-area voting-rights activist Bev Harris may well cause serious investigations and important procedural changes.
Allegations from Harris last week that hundreds of Shelby County voters — almost all black Democrats — have had their voting history erased have put Election Commission officials on the defensive and prompted a demand from 9th District congressman Steve Cohen Sunday that the U.S. Department of Justice and Tennessee State Election Coordinator Mark Goins look into her charges. “The ballot must remain free and open to all,” said Cohen, who had made similar requests for DOJ scrutiny following a glitch in the August 2010 countywide election that caused several hundred voters to be turned away, at least temporarily, after an erroneous early-voting list had been fed into the county’s electronic voting log.
Last week, in a case closely watched around the country, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was constitutional. But it also exposed the fault lines that will likely push the case to the Supreme Court, posing one of the gravest threats to a provision in the Act that has been used most recently to force court review of voter ID laws in Southern states. In a 2-1 decision in the case of Shelby County v Holder, the justices upheld Section 5 of the Act, an embattled component of the landmark civil rights measure which requires all or part of 16 states — nine in the South — to get federal approval before making major changes to elections.
The Shelby County Election Commission is investigating claims by a blogger that they have erased the voting history of 488 voters in Shelby County. The blog, blackboxvoting.org claims in an article published two weeks ago, that the Election Commission was “caught red-handed” erasing the voting history of the nearly 500 voters that the blog says are mostly African-American Democrats from the 9th Congressional District. Election Commissioner George Monger said Friday he looked into the claims and they are true. “What I looked at was the names on the list and I simply took those voter ids and compared them to the most recent data I got at the last Election Commission meeting and with that I did see that the voter histories were not in the particular report,” said Monger. Robert Myers Chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission said they began looking into the issue Thursday.
Articles on the Voting Rights Act are increasingly being filed in the “obituary” section, even though it’s less than 50 years old. Last week, a U.S. Court of Appeals decisionruled against Shelby County, Ala., which challenged the constitutionality of VRA’s Section 5. A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that it was still constitutional, but the dissenting judge, Senior Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams, asked some tough questions that will need to be resolved before the Supreme Court inevitably looks at it again (In 2009, SCOTUS punted on this issue, but expressed serious skepticism about Section 5’s vitality.) Wrote Judge Williams in his dissent:
*Why should voter ID laws from South Carolina and Texas be judged by different criteria … from those governing Indiana? A glimpse at the charts shows that Indiana ranks “worse” than South Carolina and Texas in registration and voting rates, as well as in black elected officials. This distinction in evaluating the different states’ policies is rational? *
South Carolina and Texas are “covered jurisdictions” under Section 5, while Indiana, which has a worse voting record, is not. As Williams pointed out, none of those three states are among the top ten worst offenders on voting rights. So the coverage formula needs to be reconsidered, Williams concluded. The coverage formula of Section 5 is the ankle bracelet for Southern states and counties (and a few Northern counties) that have been placed on house arrest for repeated voting rights violations, mostly throughout America’s Jim Crow era. States like Alabama, Texas and South Carolina want courts to take that ankle bracelet off.
People who say there shouldn’t be such a fuss over the Texas voter ID law are so sweetly naive. It’s no big deal, they say. We get asked to show a driver’s license all the time, from when we write a check or pay for something with a credit or debit card to when we check in at the doctor’s office. We do it without a second thought to show we are who we say we are. We’ve always been far more willing to provide information about ourselves to the phone company or a 16-year-old grocery store clerk than we have been to give that same information to the government. And the helpful volunteer poll worker asking for an ID, nice lady that she is, symbolizes government just as the president and Congress do. But voting is so important. Shouldn’t we be willing to go the extra mile to protect the integrity of the ballot box from people, even though they may be few, who would misrepresent themselves and deliver a candidate some dishonest votes? Maybe. That’s what a panel of judges from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has been asked to decide. A trial date has been set for July 9.
A federal appeals court in Washington has upheld a key part of the Voting Rights Act, one that requires states and localities with a history of discrimination against minorities to “pre-clear” changes in their election procedures with the Department of Justice or a federal court. The reasoning behind the 2-1 ruling is persuasive; Chief JusticeJohn G. Roberts Jr.and other members of the Supreme Court should exercise judicial restraint by refusing to reconsider it. In an earlier, 2009 decision, the chief justice recognized that Congress has the power to enforce the 15th Amendment’s guarantee of a right to vote. But he warned ominously that the pre-clearance requirement in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and the formula under which states were subjected to it, raised “serious constitutional questions.
The chances to remake American law—and maybe American society—are stacking up for the Supreme Court. Next month, the Justices will render their verdicts on the Affordable Care Act and on the Arizona immigration law. The fate of affirmative action in university admissions will likely be determined by the Roberts Court in its next term, and now another blockbuster appears headed for the Justices as well. The future of the Voting Rights Act—probably the Great Society’s greatest landmark—will almost certainly be in the Court’s hands next year. The heart of the Voting Rights Act is its famous Section 5, which essentially put the South on perpetual probation. In rough terms, the law requires the states of the old Confederacy (as well as a few smaller areas outside the South) to submit any changes in their electoral law to the Justice Department for what’s known as “pre-clearance”—to make sure that the changes don’t infringe on minority voting rights. Before Section 5, states and municipalities could simply change their rules—about everything from the location of polling places to the borders of district lines—and dare civil-rights activists to sue to stop them. It was a maddening, and very high-stakes, game of whack-a-mole. As a result of Section 5, though, the Justice Department monitored these moves and made sure there would be no backsliding on voting rights.
In an effort to move to trial more quickly, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has quietly dropped his opposition to the Department of Justice’s request to take depositions from state lawmakers in the voter identification case. In March, Abbott asked a federal court in Washington to shield 12 state lawmakers from giving depositions in the state’s voter identification case against the Justice Department. Citing legislative privilege, Abbott’s office said that the department’s requests to depose lawmakers and subpoena records amounted to “an unwarranted federal intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature.” But now, Abbott has decided to stop trying to prevent the depositions, said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Abbott. “In order to move the case forward without delay, the State agreed to allow depositions to proceed,” Strickland said in a statement.
A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, rejecting an Alabama county’s challenge to the landmark civil rights law. The provision requires state, county and local governments with a history of discrimination to obtain advance approval from the Justice Department, or from a federal court in Washington, for any changes to election procedures. It now applies to all or parts of 16 states. In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that Congress developed extensive evidence of continuing racial discrimination just six years ago and reached a reasonable conclusion when it reauthorized section 5 of the law at that time. The appellate ruling could clear the way for the case to be appealed to the Supreme Court where Chief Justice John Roberts suggested in a 2009 opinion that the court’s conservative majority might be receptive to a challenge to section 5.
A government lawyer on Friday urged an appeals court to reverse a judge’s ruling that a century-old ban on corporate campaign contributions in federal elections is unconstitutional. Justice Department attorney Michael R. Dreeben told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the prohibition serves the legitimate government interest of curbing corruption, and overturning it would run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court precedent. But attorneys for two northern Virginia executives who were charged with violating the ban argued that U.S. District Judge James Cacheris got it right when he ruled last year that the ban violates corporations’ free-speech rights. In his first-of-its-kind ruling, Cacheris said it was not logical for an individual to be able to donate up to $2,500 to a federal government while a corporation “cannot donate a cent.” The appeals court typically takes several weeks to rule.
Virginia: Governor signs Voter ID bill – orders ID cards to be sent to all registered voters | HamptonRoads.com
Gov. Bob McDonnell has decided to let controversial legislation to tighten voter-identification policies become law, but he’s also ordering state election officials to send every registered Virginia voter a new voter-ID card. The move by the governor enables him to satisfy Republican demands for election safeguards while blunting criticism that the state is imposing barriers to voter participation. McDonnell on Friday said he signed two bills – SB 1 and HB 9 – to increase the forms of acceptable ID “while helping to further prevent voter fraud and ensuring Virginians that they can have faith that votes have not been fraudulently cast.” Friday was the deadline for him to act on the legislation.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant on Thursday signed a bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, but it’s unclear whether it will become law. Because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, the state is required to get federal approval for any change in election laws or procedures. The U.S. Justice Department in recent months has rejected voter ID laws from Texas and South Carolina. The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is asking the department to reject Mississippi’s proposed law, saying it could disproportionately create hardships for poor, elderly or minority voters who might be less likely to have a photo ID.