Rick Scott's partisan purge of voters from Florida's rolls a few months before a major election -- a move that has erased literally tens of non-citizens from the books and earned Scott another starring role on the Daily Show -- is apparently totally fine under federal election law. That's the view of U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, at least.
Hinkle ruled late on Wednesday that Scott can go ahead with his purge despite a challenge from the U.S. Department of Justice.
It's an odd ruling considering that Hinkle himself acknowledges that Scott's move -- which disproportionately targeted thousands of legit, mostly Hispanic and Democratic voters -- is basically bogus.
"That's discriminatory, at least in effect," Hinkle admitted when pressed over the fact that conservative white voters haven't needed to worry about proving their citizenship to stay on the books.
But Hinkle says a federal law -- the 1993 Voter Registration Act, which forbids systematic purges within 90 days of an election -- doesn't apply to Scott's maneuver because the law doesn't mention "non-citizen" voters.
Hinkle rejected the Justice Department's demand that the state restore everyone who's been removed during the purge, saying that "leaving ineligible voters on the list is not a solution."
Scott praised the ruling, saying, "The court made a common-sense decision consistent with what I've been saying all along: that irreparable harm will result if non-citizens are allowed to vote."
The Justice Department, meanwhile, tells Politico this morning that they will review Hinkle's written decision when it's published and then decide whether to appeal.
Can we just cut through all the legalize here and be honest for a second, though?
Maybe Hinkle's right that Scott's purge doesn't violate the 1993 Voting Rights Act, in which case, shame on the DOJ for not knowing its case law before filing a challenge.
But the DOJ is also right that Scott's purge is a return to the worst kind of Republican politics: At heart, it has nothing to do with purging the minute number of non-citizens who have somehow ended up on the books (and more than likely never actually voted), and everything to do with intimidating Hispanic voters into staying away from the polls.
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It's the exact same rationale behind his restrictions on voter registration (which mostly have been overturned in court), and his ridiculous rule against Sunday voting -- a move with exactly one purpose, to keep traditionally black churches from leading vote drives after services.
It's not that this electoral strategy is ineffective. Scott may well be right that it's the GOP's only hope of taking Florida from Barack Obama in November.
It's just that Jim Crow-era politics should leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth, whether technically legal under federal law or not.