Voting Rights Organizations Send Notice to Florida: Stop Purging Voters

Release Date: May 24, 2012, 12:26 pm

Groups ask for an immediate termination of plan to remove alleged non-citizens from the voter rolls

Washington, DC – Today, civil and voting rights organizations Project Vote, Fair Elections Legal Network, Advancement Project, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, LULAC Florida, and the Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition, Inc. sent a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner alerting him that Florida’s plan to identify and remove alleged non-citizens from the voter rolls violates federal law and must cease immediately.

Earlier this month, the Florida Division of Elections sent county supervisors of elections a list of nearly 2,700 voters that they flagged as possible non-citizens by comparing voter lists with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) database and jury recusal forms. These “matches” are scheduled to be removed from the rolls if they do not respond to notification within 30 days.

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 must respond within 30 days to a notice letter that could easily be lost, misplaced, or inadvertently ignored.

“Cleaning up voter rolls should be done with the utmost care and by following the law,” said Ben Hovland, Senior Counsel for the Fair Elections Legal Network. “There are already laws on the books that adequately address any attempt to register or vote illegally. However, this program places the burden of proof on voters. Eligible citizens who do not respond may be purged from the voter rolls and risk losing his or her vote. Florida should stop this effort immediately and restore the voting rights of anyone that has been affected by this faulty matching program.”

Moreover, Section 8 of the NVRA expressly requires that any program designed to remove ineligible voters from the rolls must be completed no later than 90 days before a primary or general election for federal office. Florida’s primary will take place on August 14, 2012, less than 90 days away. Therefore, even voters who have already been targeted must not be removed from the rolls before the 2012 election.

“The law is very clear, and there is a reason it requires voter purges to be completed well in advance of an election,” explains Catherine M. Flanagan, director of the Election Administration Program for Project Vote. “It is to provide the time necessary for election officials to verify their information and for wrongfully removed eligible voters to correct the mistake." 

Further, the program disproportionately burdens Latinos, 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.”

"The right to vote is the fundamental pillar of our democracy. Florida has a shameful history of purging minority voters based on false information and inaccurate lists right before the presidential elections,” said Penda Hair, Co-Director of the Advancement Project. “This year's deeply flawed process disproportionately targets Latino voters and is discriminatory, unfair and antithetical to the values of our nation.”

“Florida has enjoyed a dramatic increase in population fueled in large part by the number of Latinos now calling it home,” adds Juan Cartagena, President & General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Demographic change should not engender targeted and faulty methods to reduce the political participation of these and other citizens of the State.  The timing of these measures also reduces the confidence that Florida’s voters should have in election administration.  This purge must be stopped.”

"Our coalition came together to fight for the rights of Hispanics during this redistricting election year and it is disconcerting that we have to continue to fight for the respect that should be due every American citizen for representation and the precious right to vote" according to Victor Rudy DiMaio, Vice-President  of the Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition, Inc.

The letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner can be found here: http://www.fairelectionsnetwork.com/webfm_send/89

***Correction: an earlier version stated Florida's Presidential primary was August 14, 2012. August 14, 2012 primary is for congressional and legislative offices, not for the presidential primary which happened in January.***