Florida vows to defy Justice Department, continue with voter purge
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner says he will push officials in the likely swing state to check voter rolls against a list of suspected illegal immigrants. The Justice Department says the purge may be illegal.
State officials in Florida insisted Friday they would resume a purge of non-citizens from voter polls over the objections of the US Department of Justice’s Voting Rights Division, the latest move in a tense, election-year political chess match between Tallahassee and the Obama administration.Skip to next paragraph
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Republican Gov. Rick Scott recently requested county voting resistrars to purge the voter rolls to prevent illegal immigrants from lining up to vote in the presidential election in November. The move is one of several – including voter ID laws – championed by Republican governors in the South as targeting voter fraud, but which are viewed by the Justice Department as unfairly targeting minority voters.
The purge is based on a list of 2,700 names that were flagged as questionable by the Election Division in Tallahassee, which counts just over 11.3 million registered voters in the state. Before heeding DOJ’s order to stop the purge last week, county election officials had found that 500 of the people on the list were legal voters while 40 were identified as noncitizens. Four of those may have voted in past elections, making them potentially guilty of voter fraud, a felony.
Despite the DOJ objections, as well as concerns voiced by election officials in Florida’s 67 counties, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner insisted Friday that he’ll keep pushing for the purge. The fight over the purge is taking place in a tightly contested swing state that may, in the end, determine whether President Obama will remain in office for another four years.
“This is a tactical decision and, in a way, it makes sense: You know that Florida is going to be highly competitive, so you make what is actually a very clever argument: Who’s going to say, ‘No, no, we should keep noncitizens on the voting rolls’?” says Efren Perez, a political scientist who specializes in Latino voter issues at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville.
“But while it’s intuitively plausible that noncitizens might get on the voter rolls,” he says, “it’s not clear how big or a problem it really is, empirically speaking, which means you’re also giving the opposition an argument to say, ‘This is precisely why minorities vote for Democrats.’”