Dept. of Justice says Florida voter purge may break laws

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The U.S. Department of Justice said late Thursday that Florida’s controversial attempt to purge ineligible voters appears to violate federal laws and gave the state until June 6 to indicate whether it will halt the process, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

T. Christian Herren, chief of the department’s voting section, sent a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner that said the state’s actions appear to violate two federal voting laws. Florida has used a search of a driver’s license database to try to identify non-citizens who are ineligible to vote.

Herren’s letter said the actions do not comply with part of the federal Voting Rights Act that requires Florida to get a sign-off from the Department of Justice or a federal court for actions that affect five counties with a history of discrimination.

“Our records do not reflect that these changes affecting voting have been submitted to the United State District Court for the District of Columbia for judicial review or to the attorney general for administrative review as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” the letter said. “Accordingly, it is necessary that they either be brought before that court or submitted to the attorney general for a determination that they neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group under Section 5.”

The letter also said Florida could be violating another law known as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which includes standards for how voter lists are maintained. Part of the law requires states to finish the systematic removal of ineligible voters 90 days before a primary or general election — a deadline that passed May 16 for Florida, which has a primary on Aug. 14.

The Department of Justice gave Detzner less than a week to say how the state will deal with the possible legal violations.

“To enable us to meet our responsibility to enforce federal law, please inform us by June 6 of the action that the state of Florida plans to take concerning the matters discussed in this letter,” Herren wrote. “Specifically, please advise whether the state intends to cease the practice discussed above, so that the department can determine what further action, if any, is necessary.”

Chris Cate, a spokesman for the Department of State, said in an e-mail Thursday night that state election officials had just received the letter and had not had time to thoroughly review it.

“Bottom line is we are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot,” Cate said.

With Florida likely a key state in the November presidential election, the use of the driver’s license database to identify ineligible voters has drawn national controversy. Critics contend that it is an attempt to unfairly target Democrats and Hispanics, though Gov. Rick Scott and elections officials have said they are attempting to make sure only eligible voters cast ballots.

Election officials said earlier this year as many as 180,000 names may be erroneously included on state voter rolls. So far, more than 2,600 names have been sent to local officials, who then have been notifying people on the list.

Earlier Thursday, Detzner sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking for help in identifying ineligible voters. Detzner is asking to use the department’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database, a national registry that is updated more frequently than the state’s database.

“As you may be aware, my department has received credible and reliable information from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles indicating non-citizens may be registered to vote in Florida,” Detzner wrote. “While processing this new information, it became clear that our department’s ability to validate a person’s legal status as up-to-date was limited.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.