Department of Justice to Florida: Stop Purging Voters

AG Eric Holder to Florida: Quit purging minority voters.
AG Eric Holder to Florida: Quit purging minority voters.

When Gov. Rick Scott's administration began a statewide purge of "non-citizen" voters, it didn't seem like a coincidence that the Miami Herald found the GOP-led effort disproportionately targeted Democrats, Hispanics and independents -- many of whom were in fact eligible to vote. It was also no great shock that Scott's government didn't seem too worried that their system was deeply flawed.

The Department of Justice, it seems, wasn't fooled about what was really going on, either. In a letter sent late last night -- hours after a federal judge tossed some of Florida's more stringent new vote registration laws -- the DOJ demanded that Florida stop the purge because it might violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

From the start, Democrats have accused the GOP of being more interested in scaring and harassing minority voters away from the polls than in ensuring the state's election rolls are completely updated.

To engineer the voter purge, the Republicans compared state election rolls with DMV records that have some citizenship info. The problem was, the DMV isn't all that interested in updating its record and a number of Floridians got their license before getting their citizenship -- a fact unrecorded in DMV records.

The Herald found that a full 58 percent of those flagged by the state's purge were Hispanic (despite the ethnic group making up just 13 percent of the population.)

The process quickly turned comical. In Broward, Democrats found a 91-year-old, Brooklyn-born World War II veteran who was flagged as a "non-citizen" and had to prove his voting bonafides.

The DOJ's letter, sent late last night to the state, says the effort breaks several voting laws. Five counties, including our neighbor to the south, Monroe, have such a history of voting suppression that they have to OK voting changes with the feds; that was never done in this case.

In addition, the purge may violate this rule in the Voting Rights Act, the Herald reports: ""a State shall complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for Federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters."

Chris Cate, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, counters that Scott is "firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot." Cate also complains that the Department of Homeland Security won't share citizenship info with state election officials.

This process was never about finding "non-citizen" voters. It was a botched solution to a problem that never existed. (At last count, after all this effort, only about a dozen ineligible voters have turned up in all of Dade County, the Herald reports).

Instead, Scott hoped to charge up the Republican base and maybe harass a few minority voters into staying away from the polls (a strategy, it's worth noting, that worked best in the Jim Crow South.)

Scott's administration is likely to challenge the DOJ's ruling. We'll update this post when they make their intentions known later this morning.

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