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.”
Florida often grabs national attention because the state is home to 11.3 million voters and wields 29 electoral votes, but the apparent showdown in the state is part of a broader battle over voting rights and participation leading up to the 2012 presidential election. Since last year, nearly three dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures have considered or passed laws creating new photo ID requirements for voters. Some also shortened early-voting periods, restricted early voting sites in churches and other locations where many minority voters typically cast ballots, and curtailed organizations that register voters. While some of the changes have gone into effect, many remain on hold pending court decisions.
Early this year, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s staff worked with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to identify nearly 3,000 alleged noncitizens who also are registered to vote, said Chris Cate, Detzner’s spokesman. The voters in question were not citizens at the time they applied for a Florida driver’s license. However, many people become citizens between scheduled license renewals, voting-rights advocates say.