The Advancement Project has joined forces with the Fair Elections Legal Network, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and Project Vote to file a lawsuit against the state of Florida to stop an initiative that attempts to remove “non-citizens” from voter registration rolls via a mass-purging process formed from questionable methods. The lawsuit would cover the entire state and would suspend the voter purging for at least a year. To date, dozens of Floridians and US citizens have come forward stating that they were wrongly identified as “non-citizens” and are at risk of losing their right to vote. The Department of Justice is also suing Florida over the program. We caught up with The Advancement Project’s co-director Penda Hair and asked her to explain the lawsuit, the problems with Florida’s voter purging initiative and the history of voter discrimination in the state.
Voting Rights Watch 2012: Now that this lawsuit against Florida has been filed, what’s next in the process to block Florida’s voter purging initiative?
Penda Hair: The lawsuit is filed in Miami with the federal Southern District Court of Florida. We are asking for a preliminary injunction to block the program. This would be an emergency ruling that will move more quickly than a normal civil suit, and we expect the court to take this up very quickly. We believe this is a case where the voters themselves can have their voices heard. We will bring Florida voters to court so they can make their case about how this program is affecting them. It’s a broad-based effort in terms of public education and activism and obviously the legal complaint. The Advancement Project has been doing voting rights work in Florida since the 2000 elections—I think this is our fifth or sixth lawsuit here—and we are very familiar with these kinds of shenanigans.
It is, in fact, well within the state’s right to purge ineligible voters from their lists. What exactly is wrong with how Florida is doing it?
One thing is that it is discriminatory on the basis of race and language status. The Advancement Project’s research has confirmed that 87 percent of the people on Florida’s purge list are people of color and more than 50 percent are Latinos. So while states are allowed to make their lists more accurate they can’t target people of color for purging in the process. Congress found that there has been a history of certain states using lists like Florida’s to target minorities for purging, so they have determined that certain types of massive systematic purges cannot happen ninety days before a federal election, and Florida’s purge program illustrates why Congress was correct in making that determination.
It’s unclear from Florida state government officials when this process actually started, though. It was announced to the public in May, but Governor Rick Scott says it actually began last year. How will a clear starting date be determined?
The facts are the facts. They probably did start investigating this last year and I understand that as soon as Scott was elected governor he was asking about how he could find people who aren’t citizens. But that doesn’t matter. Under the National Voting Rights Act, it is the day that the program is finished that makes it a violation of the law or not, and it can’t finish within ninety days of a federal election for purging purposes. [Florida has a primary on August 14.]