Yesterday, civil and voting rights organizations Advancement Project, Fair Elections Legal Network, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and Project Vote filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida on behalf of Karla Arcia, Melande Antoine and five organizational plaintiffs affected by Governor Rick Scott’s voter purge program. The organizational plaintiffs are Veyeyo, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Inc., National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, Florida New Majority, and 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East – Florida.
The lawsuit challenges the legality of the program because it is in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in voting. It is also in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Under Section 8 of the NVRA, programs that systematically remove voters must be completed 90 days before a federal election. Florida will hold congressional primaries on August 14, 2012; therefore, the 90 day period began on May 16, 2012. Continuing to engage in the program, as Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Dentzer have confirmed the state will, is in violation of the protections the NVRA provides to eligible voters.
“This lawsuit will protect eligible voters in every county in Florida from walking into a polling place only to find that the state has erroneously decreed they cannot participate in this election. This purge is profoundly undemocratic and must be stopped,” says Catherine M. Flanagan, director of the Election Administration Program, Project Vote.
Of the list of nearly 2,700 voters that the state has flagged as possible non-citizens on the voter rolls using a faulty data matching process, over 500 have already shown documentation that they are citizens and eligible to vote. A program with a high error rate that places the burden on the voter to proof citizenship will end up disenfranchising hundreds of eligible voter’s right before the election with little time to correct the error and restore their right to vote.
“The Florida Immigrant Coalition, Inc., an organization that represents the immigrant community across the state of Florida, believes this as another effort to intimidate legal immigrants,” said Maria Rodriquez, executive director of Florida Immigrant Coalition, Inc, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We see this purge as part of a continuum of attacks on immigrants that could impact this community’s confidence that their votes this election will be counted.”
Database matching programs are notoriously unreliable. Data entry errors, similar-sounding names, and changing information can all produce false matches. Additionally, some voters slated for removal may well have been naturalized since completing the DHSMV or juror forms. Further, it places the burden of proof on the voter, who according to the state, must respond within 30 days to a notice letter that could easily be lost, misplaced, or inadvertently ignored.
“While counties have an obligation to clean and update voter rolls, they also have an obligation to follow the law in doing so. If there are people on the roles improperly, there is a legal process to remove them. Unfortunately, Florida’s current program does not follow the law,” stated Ben Hovland, senior counsel with the Fair Elections Legal Network. “As a result, we have seen the use of outdated or incorrect records from the Department of Motor Vehicles jeopardize the right to vote of hundreds of law-abiding Florida citizens. Florida should stop this effort immediately and restore the voting rights of anyone that has been affected by this faulty matching program.”
“It is clear that the state of Florida is in violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Advancement Project Co-Chair Penda Hair. “It is shameful that Governor Scott is violating federal law to remove the voting rights of thousands of American citizens, with a glaringly disparate impact on Black and Latino citizens who are perfectly eligible to vote.”
The facts clearly demonstrate that the program disproportionately burdens Hispanics, Haitian Americans, and other minority voters in Florida. According to the NVRA, any state program to maintain an accurate and current voter roll must be “uniform, nondiscriminatory, and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act.” However, 87 percent of those targeted on the purge list are minorities, including 53 percent that have been identified as Hispanics.
“This action by Florida state officials is a blatant attempt to disenfranchise Latino and other voters of color, and to harm their ability to participate in the voting process,” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Public data records are rife with inaccuracies and Florida officials know that. This last minute voter purge speaks volumes about their motivations.”
A copy of the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida can be found here.