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Florida to DOJ: 'We Respectfully Disagree'

June 5, 2012 - 6:00pm

The state will not end efforts to keep ineligible voters from having a chance to cast a ballot, even though the U.S. Department of Justice deadline to stop the voter-list purge came and went Wednesday.

Instead, state officials want to know if the DOJ supports the possibly illegal attempt by the Obama administration-backed Department of Homeland Security to keep Florida for months from accessing a database to assist its efforts.

In a four-page response to the DOJ's letter of May 31, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner wrote that he respectfully disagrees with the federal position. He said he questions whether the justice agency is endorsing Homeland Securitys reluctance to open the database, which resulted in the state now being beyond a deadline to conduct the review.

This hardly seems like an approach earnestly designed to protect the integrity of elections and to ensure that eligible voters have their votes counted, Detzner wrote.

Detzner also added a series of questions he wants the DOJ to answer, including if Homeland Security has a legal obligation to provide Florida access to the SAVE database and what steps the DOJ believes Florida should take to identify and remove noncitizens from its voter registration list.

Prior to the DOJ letters release, Gov. Rick Scott reiterated that no eligible voters have been removed from the lists of registered voters.

"Not a single eligible voter, as far as I know, has been removed from the voter rolls," Scott said during an interview on WNDB 1150 AM in Daytona Beach on Wednesday morning.

The state sent lists of potentially ineligible voters to the supervisors. Each supervisor was to try contacting the voter to verify citizenship. If no response was made by the individual voter within 30 days, the name could be removed by the supervisor.

A DOJ spokesperson was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The Brennan Center for Justice, which --along with groups such as Project Vote, Fair Elections Legal Network, Advancement Project, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, LULAC Florida, and the Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition Inc.-- has opposed the review, expressed disappointment with Detzners decision to press forward.

The states planned purge, so close to the election, opens the door to errors, confusion and the removal of eligible voters, Brennan Center's Democracy Program Director Wendy Weiser stated in a release. The Department of Justice was correct in raising a concern about this process. The Sunshine State cannot continue to operate its election process in darkness.

Fortunately, many local election administrators have indicated they will not carry out the states plan. The opportunity for errors when conducting massive voter purges makes it imperative that purge practices be transparent, accurate, and carried out well in advance of an election. Only then can mistakes be corrected in time for a voter to cast a ballot that will count, added Democracy Senior Counsel Myrna Pez. Consistent and uniform implementation of best practices will go a long way in ensuring that eligible voters are not thrown off the rolls by a stroke of the keyboard.

The response is titled Floridas Continuing Commitment to Protecting Citizens Voting Rights.

Meanwhile, the state may also be considering a legal response.

State Attorney Pam Bondi, who was not involved in Detzners response, is following the action.

We still hope that the Department of State will be able to obtain the Obama administration's cooperation without resorting to litigation, but we're monitoring the situation and believe Florida needs to keep all of its options open, Bondi spokeswoman Jenn Meale responded in an email.

On May 31, Christian Herren, the DOJs chief civil rights lawyer, gave Detzner until Wednesday to halt the voter roll review that has drawn sharp opposition from Democrats and minority groups.

Herren claims the effort may violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act -- requiring federal preclearance before undertaking any changes in Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties, which have past experience with minority-voting problems -- and that because of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, time has run out for the review before the 2012 elections.

In his letter, Herren didnt mention that the Department of Homeland Security has delayed or stonewalled, since at least last September, requests from Florida to obtain updated citizenship information.

Florida has been requesting the information to comply with the federal Motor Voter law, which requires states to remove ineligible voters from the list of registered voters.

Herrens letter prompted the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections on Friday to advise supervisors to put the review on hold.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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