Florida bucks feds; defends voter roll 'purge'
June 7th, 2012
11:09 AM ET
8 years ago

Florida bucks feds; defends voter roll 'purge'

(CNN) – Florida's Republican-appointed secretary of state issued a tough rebuke to the United States Justice Department late Wednesday, writing his state's effort to remove non-U.S. citizens from voter rolls was both consistent with federal law and necessary to protect against fraud.

Ken Detzner, appointed to his post by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, was responding to Justice Department questions about the legality of the voter roll "purge," which comes five months ahead of a presidential election in which swing state Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, will play an influential role. In defending his state's decision, Detzner slammed the federal government for restricting access to federal citizenship databases, saying such a constraint was illegal.

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"It is an unfortunate but now undeniable fact that Florida' s voter rolls include individuals who are not citizens of the United States. The Florida Department of State has a solemn obligation to ensure the integrity of elections in this State," Detzner wrote in the letter addressed to T. Christian Herren, head of the Justice Department's elections unit.

Detzner continued, "The Department of State respectfully disagrees with DOJ's position. The actions taken by Florida to identify and remove non-citizens from its voter rolls ensure that the right to vote of citizens is protected and is not diluted by the votes of ineligible persons."

Florida's move to remove non-eligible voters from its voter lists began after Scott, the state's Republican governor, pressed Florida's elections officials to identify non-U.S. citizens who had registered to vote illegally. Using information from the state's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the state identified more than 100,000 names of non-eligible voters that could potentially be on the lists illegally.

Critics say the plan unfairly targets minorities, and paint it as an attempt to dissuade typically Democratic voters from going to the polls.

The Department of Justice wrote in a letter last week that Florida failed to properly notify the federal government of their decision, writing the unilateral move violated provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Five counties in Florida are covered by the Voting Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation that gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and localities with a history of voter discrimination. Any changes in voting laws and procedures in the covered states must be "pre-cleared" with Washington.

Florida's three largest counties - Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach - all said earlier this week they had either stopped the removal of names from their voter lists or had never begun the process. The legal counsel for Florida's county election officials recommended halting the purge of names until the state responded to the federal government. That office has yet to issue an updated recommendation.

In its letter, the Justice Department also said the move appeared to violate a provision that prevents states from removing voters from rolls less than 90 days ahead of an election. Florida will hold a primary vote on August 14.

In his letter Wednesday, Detzner took issue with the Justice Department's legal assessment, saying his state's decision was fully consistent with federal law.

"The State of Florida is not a covered jurisdiction subject to the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act," Detzner wrote. "As for the role of the supervisors of elections in Florida's five covered counties, they are simply administering a law that the Department of Justice has duly precleared."

The timing of the move is also legal, Detzner argued, claiming the federal provision against removing names from rolls only applies to people who were once eligible to vote but, through death or criminal conviction, had become ineligible.

"If the effect of the [National Voting Rights Act] is to force a state to allow never-eligible non-citizens the opportunity to vote, then the statute might violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which guarantees that the right to vote cannot be denied by a dilution of the weight of a citizen's vote," Detzner wrote.

In a separate letter, Florida's secretary of state also accused the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of violating federal law by preventing his state from accessing a citizenship database.

"Federal law expressly requires your agency to respond to state inquiries seeking to verify or ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of any individual within its jurisdiction for any purpose authorized by law," Detzner wrote in a letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

He continued, "After nine months of questions, we have not been grated access to that information or any other available DHS database."

CNN en EspaƱol's Adriana Hauser contributed to this report.

Filed under: Florida • Rick Scott
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Cody

    As usual, Florida's Republicans are doing everything they can to illegally suppress Democratic voters.

    June 7, 2012 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  2. macrasta

    I hope this helps the people of Florida turn the state BLUE...dispite the tricks

    June 7, 2012 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  3. McShannon

    Florida should have cared so much who was voting in Bush vs. Gore.

    June 7, 2012 11:23 am at 11:23 am |

    If they insist on breaking the law, go right ahead. But they've been warned. A WWII veteran was purged off the voting rolls. There is a immorral and criminal act being taken in Florida. The people should fight for justice.

    June 7, 2012 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  5. Myviewis

    Why can't they access the citizenship database? What is Homeland Security hiding?

    June 7, 2012 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  6. demwit

    So a few non-citizens vote..., whats the problem??

    June 7, 2012 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  7. Joi Gibson

    I saw a supervisor of elections from Leon County (I believe) say he was not going to abide by what Florida is trying to do. He says its against the law, as he reads it; he has to ensure that volunteers are in place, voting machines are working properly, volunteers are properly trained, there are enough voting places, etc., and this purge goes against the 90-day requirement as there is a primary August 14. The gentleman was actually quite upset. Personally, I find this purge suspect. Why now? If this is such a wide-spread problem, why wasn't this a priority when Governor Scott first came to office or even when Governor Bush was in office? Because it is not the problem Republicans claim it to be. And, if the state of Florida is accusing people of being non-citizens, shouldn't the state have to prove their allegations? Giving people only 30 days from the date of the letter means taking time off from work and who knows what other hardships to prove they are citizens. This just goes beyond the norm. How this person who had to pay billions because of Medicare fraud got elected to governor in a state full of senior citizens just boggles the mind. Now the rest of us have to suffer. I'm glad the people in my county, Palm Beach, are not following through on this purge.


    June 7, 2012 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  8. Samantha

    Are they going to notify every address / person purged to avoid a legal persons right to vote not being hampered come election day?

    June 7, 2012 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  9. lovethe usaorleave

    It is about time that States stand up for their rights. It is amazing how far this administration will go in attempt to violate the rights of US citizens, they must really be afraid of what the outcome will be in November. The A.G. should be concentrating on getting the firearms back that "HE" sold that are killing Americans!!!

    June 7, 2012 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  10. Dave

    Yo Jeb, can ya help a Bishop out?? Sure Mittster, ILL be all up in that like I did for my Bro in 2000. Thanks Jeb, Its my only snowball chance in Hell.

    June 7, 2012 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  11. Ray

    Scott and the Republicans have pissed so many people off, especially seniors in Florida who depend on social security and medicaire, that purging people likely to vote for the democrats is the only chance the GOP has of winning the state in 2012.

    June 7, 2012 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  12. Delusional Democrats Whining Crying Blaming, My Dream Has Come True

    Disregard the feds and do your job Florida, PROTECT the VOTE of LEGITIMATE VOTERS. Force them to press the matter and get them OUT of interfering with your legitimate role of protecting the integrity of our elections and votes. The Congress needs to repeal this entire law that allows the feds to blatantly misuse the law to illegally interfere with states performing a legitimate duty. If the states did as the feds are asking then the voter rolls would eventually be chocked full of dead people and illegals. Elections would be a total farce as every illegal would be voting and voting again for dead people.

    June 7, 2012 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  13. Delusional Democrats Whining Crying Blaming, My Dream Has Come True

    Samantha - Are they going to notify every address / person purged to avoid a legal persons right to vote not being hampered come election day?
    Yes, the attempt to contact them in order to verify the information. ANd there are provisional ballots on the day of election in case there are problems concerning identity and the right to vote. Democrats have lied about all this. LEGITIMATE VOTERS RIGHTS ARE PROTECTED.

    June 7, 2012 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  14. Bill

    The local election supervisors are not beholden to Gov. Scott and his garbage and frankly, have no legal obligation to follow his edict. Most of them believe this is illegal and are doing all they can to allow the election to proceed without any purges.

    June 7, 2012 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  15. Wake up people

    If anyone thinks any of the elections will be fair I have some swampland to sell you. You can bet your bottom dollar that this madness is going on in EVERY state with a rethuglican governor. They know Mittens is weak, they know no one likes him, but nothing scares them more than having a black POTUS. You should hear some of the lies they spew. My favorite one is President Obama is reinstating slavery-but in reverse. Blacks will now own whites! How crazy is that? But some believe it. I'm still waiting on my property to be delivered! ROFLMBAO!

    OBAMA 2012!

    June 7, 2012 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  16. Vince

    How come this issue, plus this "anger" over immigration, plus the rise of 18th century costume wearers has only come to light since early 2009? How come none of these things were issues before that?

    June 7, 2012 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  17. Phil

    Florida has shown much evidence over the years as a place that does not know the process of voting. Recall how anti-Semite Pat Buchanan won in a predominant Jewish district. This voter purge may a a response to a problem that does not exist. Most illegals would not try to vote for fear of being discovered. So who are the non-citizens Florida is looking for?

    June 7, 2012 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  18. Enough is Enough

    Its sick that Obama's Dept of Injustice would even try to keep illegals voting. How about purgeing the illegals from the country.

    June 7, 2012 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  19. Delusional Democrats Whining Crying Blaming, My Dream Has Come True

    The Obama adminstration and the ultimate incompetent AG Eric Holder is more interested in continuing the illegal invasion of this country and ensuring that illegals can destroy the integrity of our election process. WAKE UP AMERICA!!! Democrats and their policies WILL DESTROY THIS COUNTRY. Four more years of this insanity and they will have accomplished their mission.

    June 7, 2012 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  20. JoeP

    JUst one simple question: How many actual cases of fraudulent voting have there been in Florida, and the rest of the country over the past few elections?

    June 7, 2012 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  21. FedUp

    Oh wait, Florida can't possibly delete anyone from the lists that is dead! How would someone else vote 3 or 4 times like they do in Chicago? We certainly do not want the Obama administration to have to follow the law. Eric Holder is in charge!

    June 7, 2012 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  22. Malory Archer


    Why can't they access the citizenship database? What is Homeland Security hiding?


    They CAN access it – this is just a BS excuse to disenfranchise thousands of legitimate voters on the off chance one ineligible voter might cast a ballot.

    June 7, 2012 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  23. Malory Archer


    Are they going to notify every address / person purged to avoid a legal persons right to vote not being hampered come election day?


    They say they sent letters to everyone, but who knows if those letters were ever sent? Every Florida voter should contact their County Supervisor of Elections office and request proof that they're still on the rolls.

    June 7, 2012 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  24. Bill

    @enough is enough-

    Not sure what planet you live on, but illegal immigrants have never been able to vote and the DOJ is most certainly not trying to promote voting by illegal immigrants. You need to get informed and stop watching Fox news.

    June 7, 2012 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  25. Wake up people

    They just caught a rethuglican member of the House here in Michigan with illegal signatures so he could get on the ballot. Out of 1,830 signatures, only 244 were legit. His behind is out of there! So go ahead and purge, they are the crooks and this will come back to bite them.

    OBAMA 2012!

    June 7, 2012 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
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