With four lawsuits and more than 180,000 names of potentially ineligible voters, the situation in the Sunshine State is getting messier by the day.
With a tangle of lawsuits and legal complexities, it's easy to get lost in the minutiae of Florida's voter-purge debacle. Last week, as a U.S. District Court ruled on one of the disputes between the Department of Justice and the state of Florida, most of the media discussion focused on who'd won and who'd lost in the rather nuanced court opinion. More legal action comes next week, and the discussion will likely be similar.
At its core, though, this is a story of how Florida's secretary of state cast suspicion on thousands of perfectly legitimate voters. Waving around a list of 180,000 potential non-citizens and sending out a sample of 2,700 to elections officials, the state's methodology was deeply flawed. Many of those identified had immigrated to this country and completed the arduous path to citizenship. Now they're at risk of being kicked off voter rolls.
With voter-ID laws gaining popularity in states across the country, the purge constitutes a new front in the battle to protect citizens' rights to the ballot box. But following the drama is hardly an easy task. Here's a breakdown of the background and the four lawsuits around the purge.
In April, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner compiled a list of more than 180,000 registered voters who might be non-citizens. He then narrowed that to a list of 2,700, which he sent to local election officials with a list of instructions. Supervisors of Elections were to send a letter to each person on the short list, asking him or her to send back a form swearing that he or she was or was not a citizen. Detzner included a suggested form letter. If the person swore she was a citizen, she also had to include the relevant documentation. All of this was supposed to be done in 30 days—if there was no response, Detzner's letter stated the person could be removed from the voter rolls.
The problems were almost immediately apparent. Without approval from the feds, Florida had used its Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety Registration, which had flawed and outdated citizenship information, to gather its lists. A person who had gotten a driver's license as a non-citizen and then been naturalized and registered to vote could easily be flagged if he or she had not yet renewed the driver's license. (They only need to be renewed every six years.)
The purge disproportionately affects nonwhite voters, who make up around 82 percent of the list (as compared with 30 percent of Florida's population). While white people make up 70 percent of the state's registered voters, only 16 percent of the list is white. Of the 2,700 listed, around 500 have proven themselves citizens thus far. So far, only around 100 of those 2,700 are ineligible to vote. The fate of the vast majority, however, is still unclear.
Some of the local election supervisors chose not to take any action, believing they lacked sufficient evidence. Voting-rights advocates began to pound drums and raise awareness of the problem. One of the people who received a letter, World War II vet (and legal voter) Bill Internicola, became the face of the flawed effort.