Judge: State may clean up voter rolls right before election

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A federal judge in Fort Lauderdale ruled Thursday that there’s no time limit for the state to push for the removal of voters who were never supposed to be registered, and an effort to clean the rolls of non-citizens can go forward, reports David Royse of the News Service of Florida.

Judge William Zloch ruled that Secretary of State Ken Detzner is within the law in seeking the removal of voters from the rolls who were never supposed to be there to begin with – even this close to an election.

Zloch said the plaintiffs, who argued that federal law prevents such purges within 90 days of an election, failed to show that their ability to vote would be harmed by the effort.

The judge said the state push was covered in exceptions to the federal law cited by the plaintiffs. Zloch said voters who aren’t citizens, and therefore were never supposed to be eligible in the first place, weren’t covered by the 90-day restriction.

“Certainly, the (National Voter Registration Act) does not require the state to idle on the sidelines until a non-citizen violates the law before the state can act,” Zloch wrote. “And surely the NVRA does not require the state to wait until after that critical juncture – when the vote has been cast and the harm has been fully realized – to address what it views as nothing short of ‘voter fraud.’ “

Zloch also said Detzner, the state’s top elections official, “has a compelling interest in ensuring that the voting rights of citizens are not diluted by the casting of votes by non-citizens.”

Detzner has sent to several county elections supervisors a list of about 200 voters who state officials think may be illegally registered because they’re not citizens. The state asked the counties to begin the process of verifying that the information is correct with an eye toward removing them from the rolls. The list is based on the use of a federal Homeland Security database.

It’s not clear whether the counties will actually be able to remove all – or any – of the voters before the election, even if it is determined that they aren’t citizens. That’s because part of the process is sending certified letters to the people and asking them if they can prove they’re citizens within 30 days. Early voting starts in late October.

The two individual plaintiffs who tried to block the removals, Karla Vanessa Arcia and Melande Antoine, are U.S. citizens who were on an earlier and larger list of possible ineligible voters that the state sent to county officials to be considered for possible removal from the rolls.

That list, which included more than 2,600 names, was sent out before the state had access to the Homeland Security database and local officials said many of the people on it turned out to be citizens like Arcia and Antoine. That initial effort was suspended at the end of April.

Arcia and Antoine were joined in the lawsuit by a labor union and a number of voting rights groups.

Zloch said the 90-day rule was meant only to prohibit the removal of those voters who had become ineligible based on a change in residence.

“We’re very pleased another federal court has ruled that Florida’s efforts to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls are lawful and in the best interest of Florida voters,” Detzner said in a statement following Zloch’s ruling. “Ensuring ineligible voters can’t cast a ballot is a fundamental aspect of conducting fair elections.”

The effort to remove voters from the rolls has been a pet project of Gov. Rick Scott, who has contended all along that it doesn’t make sense to leave voters on the rolls if they’re ineligible.

Voting rights advocates, apart from saying that the state was casting too large a net that was likely to remove some eligible voters, have also alleged that the plan is part of a perceived national move by conservatives to make it harder for those who might support Democrats to vote.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, 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.