Racial justice, Native rights and immigration.
All eyes have been on a federal court in DC this week that will decide the future of Texas’s voter ID law. Among other arguments, Texas maintains that its constituents support voter ID, and that getting ID is not an obstacle.
The Department of Justice asserts that Texas has yet to prove that the law will not have a discriminatory affect on marginalized voters. Attorney General Eric Holder told an NAACP gathering in Houston this week that there’s a term for schemes that make it so that eligible voters have to “travel great distances to get [identification cards]” and make it a struggle to get them: “poll taxes,” in reference to laws that predate Jim Crow and barred the poor from casting their votes.
But plenty of young voters of color also traveled to DC to be heard—people like Blake Green, Ariana Williams and Christina Sanders, who work with the Texas League of Young Voters. Along with the Texas League of Young Voters, Williams networked through the Historically Black Colleges and Universities group to help build the case against Texas. The league also produced a video that highlights that up to 2.4 million Texans may be effected by the voter ID law.
As Texas points out, “Poverty is not a protected classification under the Constitution,” and if “minority voters are disproportionately indigent,” they are not being discriminated against on the basis of race. Texas also argues that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires the state to obtain preclearance from the DOJ in order to make changes to its districts or voting rules, is unconstitutional.
If the court rules in favor of the DOJ, and finds that Texas must obtain preclearance, the court will then also have to attend to the constitutional challenge to Section 5, which may result in a new venue at the Supreme Court.
Florida To Release Purge List
Despite an election official’s statements to the contrary, Florida will release the names of about 180,000 “suspected non-citizens” on its purge list. The state released a small sample of names in May, which contained individuals who were, in fact, citizens—and helped lead Florida to halt the purge.
Move Over Florida, Colorado’s Purging, Too
Colorado is following in the Sunshine State’s flawed purge effort, and is demanding the Department of Homeland Security validate the citizenship of some 5,000 voters. Colorado’s Secretary of State Scott Gessler added the names of eleven Republican officials from eleven other states who are expected to request the same of DHS. As the Denver Post points out, two of those states, Ohio and Iowa, join Colorado as battlegrounds states this election season.
Seniors Still Lack IDs Needed to Vote in Tennessee
More than 230,000 Tennessee seniors have non-photo driver’s licenses—and 126,000 of them are registered voters who will not be able to use their existing ID to cast a ballot. And a program aimed at getting these seniors a free photo ID is failing. The Institute for Southern Studies found that only 17 percent of those seniors have taken advantage of the program. According to state officials, 20,923 new IDs have been issued under the program, which means that up to 100,000 seniors might find that their old license won’t be enough to vote on Election Day.
CVS, Best Buy, MillerCoors, Hewlett-Packard and John Deere have said goodbye to ALEC, the lobby group that has pushed for voter ID laws in various states. ColorOfChange.org members have now pressured twenty-five corporations to leave ALEC.
Look up at your clock. By this same hour tomorrow, more than 1,500 US-born Latinos will have celebrated a milestone birthday, and turned 18. They’ll be eligible to vote in local, state and federal elections in their home states—but if that state is Texas, that right is under threat.
A case being heard this week by a panel of judges in DC will determine if Texas can demand strict forms of photo ID at the polls. The Lone Star State passed the bill and it was signed into law early this year. But what’s more broadly in question is the federal government’s continued power under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas, along with other states that have historically discriminated against people of color around elections, must seek preclearance from the Department of Justice for changes to voting districts or regulations. And in the case of Texas’ voter ID law, that permission was denied. Texas admits that more than 600,000 people lack the necessary identification required—but insists that the law isn’t discriminatory because no-cost ID will be made available, and voters who still lack ID will still be able to cast provisional ballots.
But even when they’re free, IDs are not always so easy to acquire. In Mississippi, another Southern state waiting on DOJ preclearance, voters need a birth certificate to get an ID—but can’t get that birth certificate unless they already have an ID in their possession. And provisional ballots are often challenged, so casting one does not guarantee that the vote will count.
Civil rights groups, meanwhile, argue that the law discriminates against Latinos and other marginalized groups; the DOJ argues that Texas hasn't proven the law doesn't have a discriminatory effect--and it's the state's burden to do so* . When Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the National Council of La Raza this past weekend, he made clear that the DOJ is vigilantly watching threats to voting rights through “redistricting plans, photo identification requirements, and changes affecting third party registration,” not just for Latinos and other people of color, but also for people with disabilities and those living abroad.
The number of Latino voters around the nation is rising—youth especially. Half of all eligible Latino voters are under the age of 40; one-third are between 18 and 34. Back in Texas, which boasts the second-largest Latino population after California, young Latinos who are enrolled in college won’t be eligible to use their school ID in order to vote under the new law. Yet a concealed handgun permit is perfectly valid at the polls. One might think that under Texas’ new law, gun toting is rewarded, but higher education is not.
Harris County, which encompasses Houston, remains Texas’ largest county, and according to the most recent census data, Latinos make up more than 40 percent of the population there. In Hidalgo County, Texas’ eighth-largest county, more than 90 percent of the population is Latino. Texas holds the second-highest number of electoral votes (again, after California), but it’s not certain that the rising number of young Latinos there will be eligible to have their vote counted under the new law.
Beyond voter ID in Texas and other states, redistricting, registration restrictions and voter purges are targeting Latino voters in Florida, Colorado and beyond. Although the black vote is also being targeted, we should remember that the right for Latinos to vote for local seats, state ballot initiatives and federal elections, which is guarded under the Voting Rights Act, is increasingly under threat.
Pennsylvania’s Conflict of Interest
The firm that received a $250,000 contract to create an ad campaign for Pennsylvania’s voter ID law is headed by Chris Bravacos, who just so happens to moonlight as a fundraiser for Mitt Romney. Bravacos himself seems keen on hiding the connection—his firm, Bravos Group, removed the ads after a Philly paper exposed the link over the weekend. But don’t fret, because both ads, one of which oddly suggest that voter ID is somehow an extension of civil rights, have been re-posted by Occupy Harrisburg.
*This post has been updated to clarify the DOJ's position.
We’ve seen state officials around the country flat-out lie about the imaginary problem of voter fraud—and we’ve seen how people of color and other marginalized groups stand to have their rights swiftly confiscated in the process. This time, voters in Pennsylvania will feel the brunt of a bill signed into law this past March, which may disenfranchise nearly 10 percent of voters statewide and 18 percent of voters in Philadelphia.
Although Secretary of Commonwealth Carol Aichele has repeatedly stated that 99 percent of Pennsylvania voters were already in possession of the identification needed to comply with the new law, her numbers were way off. The deliberate or accidental overestimate means that the state is stuck with a law that will potentially disenfranchise 758,939 voters.
In a press release dubiously titled “Department of State and PennDOT Confirm Most Registered Voters Have Photo ID,” issued Tuesday, her own office illustrates that more than 180,000 of Philadelphia’s voters lack the proper ID to cast a ballot. More than 44 percent of Philadelphia is African-American.
Pennsylvania’s strict voter ID law means that only certain forms of identification are acceptable. Even government-issued photo ID cards without an expiration date aren’t acceptable. A hearing on the voter ID bill is scheduled for July 25.
Meanwhile, Aichele and two other state secretaries face an additional lawsuit, alleging violations to the National Voter Registration Act. Also known as Motor Voter, the federal law requires registration forms be made available at a variety of state-run agencies, so that a larger part of the potential electorate can participate.
The suit, filed yesterday by a coalition of voting rights groups, claims that Pennsylvania is systematically barring low-income individuals from obtaining registration forms, because they are not offered at public assistance agencies throughout the state. Less than twenty years ago, nearly 60,000 people registered per year while interacting with a public assistance agency. Yet in 2009 and 2010, less than 5,000 people did so. The 93 percent drop in registration is especially alarming, because the number of food stamps requests nearly doubled during that time.
Is Florida Purge Racist?
A new Spanish-language ad claims Florida’s purge isn’t only illegal but racist. While Latinos make up just 16 percent of the state’s electorate, the purge has targeted up to 61 percent of Latino voters there. Although Florida’s election supervisors have effectively stopped the purge, the mechanisms are still in place to remove voters and can be restarted at any time. MoveOn’s ad features an American and a foreign-born citizen, denouncing the purge’s systemically racist effect and challenging presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney to do the same.
Michigan Governor Backs Away From Voter Suppression
In a surprise turn, Michigan’s governor vetoed a set of voter suppression bills. Lawmakers in Michigan, which is already home to a voter ID law, sought to make it nearly impossible for voter registration groups to simply do their job, and to create other obstacles for upcoming elections. In his veto statement, Governor Rick Snyder reminded his constituents that the bills would create unnecessary confusion and that “voting rights are precious.” One can only hope other legislators will agree—not only in Michigan but nationwide.
Right to Vote Maintained in North Carolina
North Carolina’s legislature was unable to override Governor Bev Perdue’s veto of a voter ID bill. Perdue rejected the bill more than a year ago, but Republican leaders announced they had enough votes to override her decision. That failed this week, and the nearly half-million voters who could have been negatively affected are safe there. For now.
DOJ May Have Last Word in New Hampshire
New Hampshire legislators overrode their governor’s veto on a voter ID bill last week—but that doesn’t mean it’s over. Ten New Hampshire jurisdictions are subject to pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act. Lawmakers have informed the Department of Justice of the new law, and the DOJ will now have to decide whether to clear the jurisdictions and allow voter ID.
Those pushing voter ID laws around the country have insisted their intentions are as nonpartisan as they are colorblind. But evidence to the contrary just keeps trickling out. Last week, Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board scolded two lawmakers for receiving free legal services in connection to a voter ID lawsuit. Representatives Robin Vos and Bob Ziegelbauer said they were unaware the Republican National Committee was funding the legal work—which is a violation of the ethics of their office.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, is mounting a massive squad of lawyers to fight voter suppression this election season. With partisan organizations like True the Vote planning to train 1 million vigilante poll watchers who will do away with the imaginary problem of voter fraud, the administration hopes to train lawyers to protect against voter intimidation this fall.
Florida’s Next Target: Voter Registration Group
Marginalized voters lost when a federal judge ruled against blocking Florida’s voter purge last week. But it might get even worse in the Sunshine State. The secretary of state’s office has contacted the Voter Participation Center and is “evaluating” whether to stop the group from registering voters. The center has sent out nearly half a million registration letters to potential voters—but the state seems to have an interest in keeping new voters off the rolls. Check out Brentin Mock’s reporting from Florida on how dramatically the state’s conversation about voting has changed in the past two years.
DOJ Claims Georgia Not so Peachy to Service Member Voters
For the first time ever, Congress voted last week to hold the attorney general (or any serving cabinet member, for that matter) in contempt, prompting some lawmakers, led by the Congressional Black Caucus to walk out in protest. The House found Eric Holder in criminal and civil contempt in connection to the gun-walking program known as Fast and Furious. But some argue that the charges are not much more than political persecution to undermine Holder’s defense of voting rights—for instance, his department’s new voting rights lawsuit against another state in the South.
The Department of Justice filed suit against Georgia last Wednesday to ensure the rights of service members and other overseas voters are protected. Congress made changes to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act in 2009, requiring states to make absentee ballots available at least forty-five days before a federal election. The DOJ filed for an injunction to compel Georgia to allow those service members and other overseas voters the allotted time required to cast their ballot.
Lost in Translation
New York Representative Nydia Velázquez kept her seat despite opposition in last week’s primary election—and despite the fact that her name was misspelled on the Chinese-language ballot. Velázquez was the first Boriqua elected to Congress, but had to distinguish herself from a local economist who is fluent in Mandarin and Chinese. It’s hoped the misspelling does not represent a harbinger of what’s to come as nearly 250 counties in twenty-five states are preparing to offer multilingual ballots this fall.
New Hampshire Override
Legislators in New Hampshire were successful in overriding the governor’s veto against a restrictive voter ID bill last week. As I previously noted, this is the second time lawmakers have attempted to override such a veto. New Hampshire touts a high voter turnout—we’ll see what kind of effect the law yields on future participation, especially for marginalized voters.
*This post erroneously cited Vos and Ziegelbauer as representatives in Minnesota; both are in Wisconsin.
What happens when the country’s first black attorney general decides to defend voting rights? He’s held in contempt of Congress. At least that’s what House Democrat Nancy Pelosi is claiming about a House vote scheduled for Thursday on whether to hold Holder in contempt.
A House Committee last week decided to make a recommendation for a full vote for contempt, related to a “gun-walking” operation that began during the Bush era, when federal agents knowingly allowed arms dealers to purchase guns for Mexican drug cartels. After President Obama took office, Holder continued the program through 2011, but also began an investigation into what he has called the flawed and unacceptable gun-walking tactic.
Keep in mind that some 50,000 people have died as a result of the US-supported drug war in Mexico. But it wasn’t until a gun from the so-called Fast and Furious program was involved in the murder of a US border agent that the committee decided to go after the Obama administration. After Obama invoked executive privilege to protect Holder from the committee’s request for additional documents related to the program, a recommendation was made to vote to hold him in contempt in the full House.
In the meantime, Holder has made no secret of the fact that the Department of Justice will vigorously defend voters’ rights. From speeches to clergy groups to lawsuits to stop Florida’s purge of its rolls, Holder has been transparent about the Justice Department’s commitment to combat voter suppression in local, state, and federal contests. Queens County and Orange County, New York, primary elections are being monitored today to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act, as are many other elections this season.
But is Pelosi correct in asserting that Holder’s actions in favor of voting rights are prompting the move to hold him in contempt?
Perhaps what seems like a far-fetched theory holds water now that a Pennsylvania Republican has made clear that the state’s voter ID law will “allow Romney to win the state.” And in a little noticed rant from Senator John Cornyn earlier this month, the Texas Republican challenged Holder to resign, citing in part, that Holder’s “department blocks states from implementing attempts to combat voter fraud.” Cornyn is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but he expressed it during Holder’s ninth appearance before a Senate committee to answer questions not about voter ID, but about the gun-walking program.
If the House votes along party lines (just as the committee did) this week to hold Holder in contempt, it will mark the first time an Attorney General has faced such a predicament—and it could very well be because he’s had the audacity to protect voter rights.
Herman Cain Returns to Batter Holder
Meanwhile, disgraced former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is back this week, attacking Holder’s record on protecting voter rights. He’s teamed up with Ken Blackwell—who’s credited with dubious tactics in the 2004 president race, during his stint as Ohio’s secretary of state. Replete with images from the black civil rights movement that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the two black conservatives tout that “elections should never be about color.” Except, of course, that voter suppression disproportionately affects people of color. Watch Cain and Blackwell go at it for yourself:
New Hampshire is notable for its high voter turnout, second only to Minnesota and Wisconsin in the 2008 elections, according to the US Elections Project at George Mason University. For a year, Governor John Lynch has tried to protect that legacy against the legislature’s attempt to pass a voter ID bill. He now appears ready to concede the point—if only the legislature would let him.
This week, Lynch was ready to compromise and sign off on a bill. But the version the state’s legislature presented was so excessively restrictive he vetoed the legislation Wednesday. Lawmakers are now preparing to vote on whether to override the governor’s veto on June 27.
It’s not the first time Lynch has vetoed a voter ID bill, and not the first time the legislature has threatened to overturn his decision. Last June, the governor vetoed a bill and declared that any eligible voter shouldn’t be denied the right to vote. Three months later, legislators attempted, but failed, to override the veto.
But something’s changed in the meantime. While Lynch was prepared to protect every person’s right to vote just one year ago, he’s now moved towards the idea that voters should present some form of identification in order to participate at the ballot box. The distinction between Lynch’s position and that of the state’s legislators is what kind of ID should be required.
Lynch now says that lawmakers went too far when they restricted the types of identification cards that could be used beginning in 2013. The bill allowed that student IDs, municipal, county and state IDs and any other identification deemed appropriate by election supervisors could be used in the upcoming September state primary, but only a valid driver’s license (or other card issued by the motor vehicles department), US passport or armed services ID could be used in future elections.
The bill is meant to restrict state government employees who use their governmental IDs. Aside from negatively impacting student voters, the bill would also have taken its toll on African-Americans, who are over-represented in municipal, county and state jobs.
We’ll keep you posted on whether the state’s legislature overrides the veto. If the House and Senate find two-thirds support, we’ll also keep a watch on the lawsuits that are sure to follow.
Tell It to the Judge
Speaking of lawsuits, a panel of judges heard arguments from both sides Thursday in one of several suits filed over Florida’s voter suppression attempt. The Department of Justice contends changes to Florida’s voting laws are in violation of the Voting Rights Act, in part because the new rules revoke voting the Sunday before Election Day. Church-going blacks have historically participated in “Souls to the Polls” on that particular Sunday, and Latinos have joined as well. Canceling voting that day will likely see a drop in participation from people of color. The state of Florida, meanwhile, argued that the rule changes are perfectly legal and will not affect voter turnout.
Not on Our Dime, Says St. Paul
And finally, the City of St. Paul filed an amicus brief in Minnesota’s Supreme Court this week, challenging a voter ID ballot measure this fall. Mayor Chris Coleman said more than 6,000 students, veterans and senior citizen voters would be impacted in St. Paul alone. The brief states that if voters pass a constitutional amendment, the city would be compelled to absorb the cost of “implementing voting programs.” It would also create confusion for election officials. The court will hear arguments in the case July 17.
Michigan’s governor is poised to sign a set of three voter suppression bills approved by the House and the Senate—in a state that already has a voter ID law. A group of civil rights organizations testified against the bills last month, citing that the legislation would cause confusion for election supervisors and polling place workers, and that one bill in particular is “especially problematic for organizations operating registration drives.” Like Florida, Michigan is a good indicator of what other states may have in store: creating barriers against the participation of marginalized voters in major elections, before they even enter the polling site.
Less than two months shy of the state’s primary state election, SB 754 targets registration drives in two ways. First, the legislation stipulates photo ID for registration at government agencies. When authoring the so-called Motor Voter Act of 1993, which increases the government venues at which people can register to vote, Congress considered and rejected language to increase the requirements (such as photo ID) to register at government agencies. Federal circuit court decisions in 2005 and 2012 cemented Congress’s intent—but Michigan is still moving forward with the photo ID requirement.
But the bill also creates obstacles for civic participation, which will need to submit the personal information of each and every single volunteer, along with an affidavit that must be kept in file for a minimum of two years. Registering agents will have to be trained by the Secretary of State and are liable for stiff penalties if any of the bill’s numerous new procedures aren’t kept. Unfortunately for them, the bill doesn’t explain the training agents are expected to undergo, and doesn’t spell out the penalties. Once the bill is signed into law, voter registration groups will be too busy scrambling to figure out the bureaucracy and pleading with get volunteers to sign affidavits, rather than carry out their actual mission to register voters.
All of this reminds us of Florida, where voter registration groups saw a sharp dip in new registered voters after similar legislation passed there. Although a ruling blocked parts of the law, Michigan is poised to copycat the Sunshine State’s confusing law, which only results in registering less voters who are already marginalized from the electoral process. And that’s just one of three bills in Michigan.
SB 751 is essentially a new purge effort, aimed to remove voters from the rolls if the state “believes” that person has moved to another state. If a voter has not voted in the past six years and then casts a ballot, their vote will automatically be challenged. Additionally, if a voter receives a postcard regarding their state residency but doesn’t respond within thirty days, and subsequently doesn’t vote in two elections, s/he will be removed from the rolls. Students, who move to attend college and find work but sometimes return home after several years are obviously at risk under this legislation, as are those who serve in the military. Elderly voters, who sometimes move in with loved ones or to assisted living facilities within the state, are also vulnerable to the bill. Federal legislation already dictates how non-residents are identified and removed—this new bill creates another way to keep voters (and young voters in particular) away from the polls rather than engaging them in the process.
The last bill in Michigan’s trifecta is simply unnecessary. Anyone who’s filled out a voter registration form already has to check a box indicating citizenship in the United States. SB 803 adds an additional box at the polling location. If the voter doesn’t automatically acknowledge their citizenship, their eligibility could be challenged, opening the door for additional questions, confusion and longer lines on Election Day. Non-English speakers are especially vulnerable to this new tactic, as there is no indication that the citizenship box will be made available in any other language.
We shouldn’t be surprised if an avalanche of lawsuits challenges Michigan’s three bills. Florida has seen its most expansive lawsuit to stop its purge today. But the suits don’t stop there: the two Democrats on Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County election board will also sue over the state’s voter ID law. All of this in an attempt to ensure that the nation’s marginalized voters can still exercise their right to register and cast their votes on Election Day.
I'm poring over notes created the last few weeks on my laptop, in my notebook and on scraps of paper, in order to explain why this blog exists. In short, Voting Rights 2012 is a collaborative effort between Colorlines.com and The Nation, to report on voter suppression. But that doesn’t explain why this blog exists. Brentin Mock will be writing the bigger picture story, looking at broader national trends from voter ID to voter suppression. Meanwhile, I’ll be augmenting with more of the day-to-day developments, as well working with community journalists, who will be our eyes and ears, since our little team can’t be everywhere at once. Now that I have it down in a short paragraph, it sounds simple enough. But it hardly begins to answer why we’re really here, or why anyone should want to follow our work.
Many readers of The Nation, who follow electoral trends and possess a tendency towards protecting voting rights, might wonder why their coveted magazine (and, increasingly, their online go-to site for political analysis) felt the need to pair up with a site that focuses on racial justice. Meanwhile, some Colorlines.com readers, who may be disenchanted with politics four years after a historic election that resulted in fewer gains for people of color than many hoped for, might wonder why their favorite daily news site is concerned with voting rights—an issue that seemingly only affirms the establishment (as a dear friend recently posted on Facebook, “the Republicrats will win no matter what”). And then, there’s Brentin and I, pressed to write for two intelligent yet not always overlapping audiences, and convince both that what we’re reporting is relevant.
Over the last few years, the narrative about voting rights has drastically changed. We know that the history of who can and cannot vote in the United States is fraught with discrimination against women, the poor and people of color. Some fifty years ago, Fannie Lou Hamer decided to risk her livelihood (to whatever extent sharecropping can be considered a livelihood) and her very life to fight against voter suppression. It was people like Hamer who saw the transformative possibilities attached in simply exercising one’s right to register to vote, and this is what eventually helped secure the Voting Rights Act.
For some readers, the reminder that radical black folks have jeopardized their lives so that future generations could fully participate in this nation’s democracy is a fact that should be celebrated and honored—and these posts will serve as a reminder that, by and large, voter suppression still largely targets people of color. For others, who might feel a detachment with establishment politics, we’ve taken this project on in order to help generate what we feel should be a natural concern for social justice activists.
We’re attentive not only to legislation and bullying tactics that confront people of color, but other communities who are often left out of the analysis. When we read about the Latino vote, we often read about immigration and deportation—but what about those immigrants who are now naturalized citizens? In Florida, immigrant voters have filed suit to protect their right to vote after being made to show proof of citizenship, yet were not provided with any written guarantee that they would be eligible to participate in the upcoming election. As in previous elections, we’ve also read that women may decide the next election, yet working women may soon realize they won’t have the time to jump through all the necessary hoops in order to vote. And although we don’t often read about transgender people in relation to the presidential election, more than 25,000 of them may lose their right to vote—more than a quarter of those live in battleground states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. This is what voter suppression looks like in 2012: yes, it still targets black and poor voters, but it’s also an immigrant, gender and transgender rights issue.
While the Voting Rights Act was crafted to guarantee rights on a national level, we’ve found that the attacks against voting rights are numerous and decentralized, designed to keep activists on the defensive. We felt we wanted to provide these watchdogs an offensive outlet. For that reason, we’ll soon be joined by a team of community journalists who will tip us to and report about mechanisms of harassment that we might otherwise miss. We feel this kind of crowdsourcing will help explain the smaller details that make up the grander scale of voter suppression.
The fact that a person’s race, class and gender may still determine whether they will be targeted for voter suppression should remind us that the collective power of the vote is still a threat. By identifying potential voter suppression threats, we hope to engage people to think about why—nearly fifty years after the Voting Rights Act—some folks are still deemed ineligible to cast a ballot. If their right to go to the polls is honored in November, these marginalized voters may decide what the next administration looks like. In the past few decades, the concern over voting rights was whether someone had access to the voting booth; today, in an increasing number is states, it’s whether someone has a very specific form of identification in order to get past the poll worker. This project contends that it’s time to seriously consider how and why this conceptual shift has occurred, and to spark discussions about how to move forward in a new century.
We do hope you’ll join us.
The already nightmarish condition of Florida’s purge of immigrant voters has attracted a slew of lawsuits. The first of those, filed Friday, comes from two U.S. citizens from Hillsborough County and a Latino civic participation group that claim their voting rights have been violated. The purge has drawn national controversy, sparked a federal civil rights probe, the citizens’ suit, and now suits between Florida and the feds.
The Department of Justice issued Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner a letter indicating the initiation of suit against Florida in federal court, citing the state is in violation of two federal voting rights laws. The suit follows the fed’s inquiry into the voter purge, which has questioned the rights of eligible U.S. citizens to vote.
According to the citizen’s suit, Murat Limage, who was born in Haiti, became a U.S. citizen and subsequently registered to vote in 2010, received a letter in April informing him that he was on a newly compiled list of voters suspected of not being citizens. Limage was told that if he failed to present proof of citizenship within 30 days, his name could be removed from the rolls, making him ineligible to cast his ballot.
Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles first issued Limage a driver’s license in 1999. When Limage updated it in 2008, the department noted that he was not a U.S. citizen at the time. These are the records the state is using find the non-citizen voters that Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has insisted are a threat to Florida’s fair elections. But the scheme doesn’t account for those U.S. citizens who, like Limage, were naturalized after they received or updated their driver’s licenses.
After receiving the daunting letter, Limage took the time to provide proof of his citizenship at the Hillsborough County Elections and Registration Office. An official made a copy of Limage’s passport yet told him he wouldn’t be provided with any confirmation in writing that he had, in fact, proven his citizenship—and was therefore eligible to vote. Limage remains rightfully worried that he won’t be able to vote in this fall’s election, because the only document he has in writing is the one that questions his citizenship.
Because word of Florida’s voter purge is spreading like wildfire, it’s also causing anxiety for those U.S. citizens who have not yet received a letter from elections supervisors, but are concerned that they will — or those who believe they won’t get a letter but will be told they are ineligible once they arrive at the polls on Election Day.
One of such person is Pamela Gomez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and is part of the citizens’ suit. The suit claims that Gomez, who like Limage, was issued her driver’s license before she became a naturalized citizen, has had her voter rights violated. Gomez expects her eligibility as a voter will be contested as a result of Secretary of State Detzner’s cross-referencing scheme to target supposed non-citizens.
The citizens’ lawsuit is backed by the ACLU and other groups that sent Detzner a letter on June 1, warning that the voter purge was taking place in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (and, not surprisingly, was ignored). The suit asserts that the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund has also had its rights violated.
The organization, a non-profit that conducts voter registration for recently naturalized citizens in Florida (as well as other states), claims that the voter purge will derail its mission. Mi Familia Vota (Spanish for “My Family Votes”) fears its already restricted resources will be diverted from registering voters to helping them deal with ill informed election supervisor requests. If organizations like Mi Familia Vota are caught up helping U.S. citizens prove their right to vote, their efforts to register minority voters will, of course, be thwarted.
Election supervisors all 67 Florida counties have already suspended the voter purge, including Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard, who has admitted that the list includes eligible citizens (Murat Limage, for example). Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s voter purge, which has already yielded more than 2,600 names, now faces legal challenges from the citizen’s suit, as well as another suit initiated by the Department of Justice yesterday. But Detzner is still defending the purge—and announced that Florida will be suing the fed as well.