Democracy scored a split decision in Florida yesterday when US District Judge Robert L. Hinkle granted a preliminary injunction against key parts of Florida’s HB 1355 law, a law passed last year that curtailed voter registration activities so much that civic organizations such as League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote suspended registration operations. Thanks to Hinkle’s ruling, the mandate that all third-party registration organizations hand over voter registration applications to county election supervisors within forty-eight hours of completion has been lifted.
Another victory came the same day when the Department of Justice intervened in the great Florida voter purging controversy, which involved "a new initiative" by the Secretary of State of compiling a list of people the office suspects are "non-citizens" who might attempt to vote. DOJ said yesterday that the state must submit that initiative to them for approval as it may discriminate against voters based on race, ethnicity or language spoken, i.e. those who don’t speak English. DOJ also told Florida that the initiative might violate the National Voting Rights Act, which prohibits changes in voting practices within ninety days of an election.
The Advancement Project sent a letter to DOJ last week urging that they immediately take steps to stop the purges. "We commend the attorney general of the United States Eric Holder for ensuring that the right to vote, the fundamental pillar of our democracy is protected for all American citizens," stated Advancement Project Co-director Penda Hair.
Added co-director Judith Browne Dianis, "We know Florida’s shameful record of purging minorities off of the voter rolls as they did in 2000 and 2004 with flawed lists of people convicted of felonies that disenfranchised tens of thousands of mostly African American registered and eligible voters. It is essential for the integrity of our elections process that we stop the disenfranchisement from occurring again and not allow the state of Florida to stand in the way of legitimate voters trying to exercise their basic democratic rights."
A huge problem with the voter purging initiative is that the secretary of state’s office has no way of accurately verifying whether the people on their list are actual "non-citizens" or not. They compiled a list of roughly 182,000 Floridians who applied for driver’s licenses when they lacked full citizenship. You can obtain a driver’s license while in the state under temporary visa situations. The state office applied that list against voter rolls to find about 2,600 names of people they suspected might attempt to vote as "non-citizens." The problem with that is those people could have earned full citizenship since applying for their drivers license and the state has no way of verifying that. Instead, the state sent out letters via supervisors of elections in various counties asking those 2,600 people to report within ninety days with proof of citizenship or face purging.
"I can’t figure out the methodology they are using—were they just skimming, were they targeting, were they using racial or partisan profiles?" asked elections expert Daniel Smith of the University of Florida in a phone conversation. "The fact of the matter is they should do [citizenship verification] at the point when people are registering to vote, not ninety days before an election, which is in violation of the 1993 Motor Voter Act, which says you’re not supposed to do any systematic purging ninety days before an election."
Some county election supervisors have refused to send out the letters until the state secretary gets their methodology straight, while other election supervisors will not participate in purging, even if people on the state’s list don’t respond to the letters within thirty days.
"A non-response in Leon County alone will not remove one from the rolls," said elections supervisor Ion Sancho of his county, who told me that at a supervisors of elections conference held last month it was determined that the state’s "non-citizen" system was faulty. "We don’t have heads around the accuracy of the state’s database, so at [the conference] we ascertained that a non-response by a voter is not evidence of non-citizenship."