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220 posts from May 2012

May 31, 2012

DOJ to Florida: Stop noncitizen voter purge. Will FL fight DOJ?

U.S. Department of Justice ordered Florida’s elections division to halt a systematic effort to find and purge the state’s voter rolls of noncitizens.

Florida’s effort appears to violate both the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities, and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act – which governs voter purges -- Christian Herren, the DOJ’s lead civil rights voting lawyer, wrote in a detailed two-page letter sent late Thursday night.

State officials said they were reviewing the letter. But they indicated they might fight DOJ over its interpretation of federal law and expressed frustration that the Obama administration has stonewalled the state’s noncitizen voter hunt.

“We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was ordered by Gov. Rick Scott to conduct the attempted purge.

So far, Florida has flagged 2,700 potential noncitizen voters and sent the list to county elections supervisors, who have found the data and methodology to be flawed and problematic. The list of potential noncitizen voters – many of whom have turned out to be lawful citizens and voters – disproportionately hits minorities, especially Hispanics.

About 58% of those flagged as potential noncitizens are Hispanics, Florida’s largest ethnic immigrant population, a Miami Herald analysis found. Hispanics make up 13 percent of the overall 11.3 million active registered voters.

Independent voters and Democrats are the most likely to face being purged from the rolls. Republicans and non-Hispanic whites are the least likely.

Under the Voting Rights Act, Florida needs federal approval before it makes changes to voting because five Florida counties -- Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry -- had minority-voting troubles decades ago.

"Our records do not reflect that these changes affecting voting have been submitted to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for judicial review or to the Attorney General for administrative review as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act," Herren wrote.

"Accordingly, it is necessary that they either be brought before that court or subitted to the Attorney General for a determination that they neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under Section 5."

He gave the state until June 6 to inform the DOJ of its planned course of action: “Specifically, please advise whether the State intends to cease the practice discussed above, so that the Department can determine what further action, if any, is necessary.”

Herren also said that the National Voter Registration Act bans Florida’s effort because it says “a State shall complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for Federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.”

As a result, Florida should have halted the effort on May 16, Herren wrote. He said the voter registration act also requires the “uniform, nondiscriminatory and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Florida elections officials say there’s nothing discriminatory or partisan about the effort at all. It’s simply trying to remove ineligible voters: felons, dead people and noncitizens.

To spot noncitizens, though, the state began comparing voter rolls with a Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle database that contains some citizenship information that the agency collects when people get a state ID such as a driver’s license.

But the citizenship data in many cases is out of date. That is, many people become citizens after they get their ID and then register to vote. But the highway safety database isn’t updated.

“The practice described above appears to be a program to systematically remove the names of potentially ineligible voters,” Herren wrote. “As a consequence, the practice appears to violate the NVRA.”

Cate, the state elections spokesman, said the state will have a full response soon. The agency also seemed to express frustration with the lack of help from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which maintains citizenship data but won’t share its database with Florida.

Detzner asked again for DHS help on Thursday.

“We provided information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security today in hopes that the federal government would help us identify ineligible voters,” Cate said. “While this isn’t a response from DHS as to why they haven’t provided us access to their data, at least we know the federal government knows we take ineligible voters on the voter rolls seriously. We hope the federal government will recognize the importance of accurate voter rolls and support our efforts.”

Download DOJ Letter-1

A smokin' fundraiser for Manny Diaz Jr.

Picture 8HD 103 is one of those Miami races to watch, pitting Manny Diaz Jr. against Miami-Dade School Board member Renier Diaz de la Portilla, who entered the race late and trails Diaz about $30k to $40k cash on hand as of the last reporting period, according to the state elections division.**

While DLP has the name (and a current and former state Senator for brothers), Diaz has the endorsements. He's holding a fundraiser Tuesday, June 26th at the Miami Lakes-based Oliva Cigar Company, owned by state Rep. Jose Oliva. The host committee: Commissioner Steve Bovo, Mayor Yioset De La Cruz, Senator Rene Garcia, Mayor Carlos Hernandez, Representative Jose Oliva, Mayor Julio Robaina, and Representative Eddy Gonzalez.

** Update: since posting this, Diaz de la Portilla complained that the state numbers are wrong because they don't reflect his school board money contributions, which has transferred to his state race. Factor that in, he says, and he's leading Diaz in fundraising $78,750 to $52,576. Also, he says, he has been endorsed by former Congressman Lincoln Diaz Balart, which trumps Diaz's endorsements, he says. 

PolitiFact: Top Florida Republican backs Florida registration changes

The controversial election law partially struck down by a federal judge Thursday is a frequent subject of political fodder.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry jumped into the debate weeks ago by publishing this column in the Orlando Sentinel.

The law helps curb voter fraud (which is already quite rare), he argues.

Curry also rejected critics' concerns that new restrictions on third-party organizations that register voters are unnecessarily burdensome.

To defend his point, he said "more than 250 (voter registration) groups, ranging across the entire political spectrum, have filed with the state and are registering voters right now."

That's worth a fact check, we thought.
We rated the statement Half True. Click the links for the full explanation and source list.

Jeb Bush to speak at Paul Ryan's House Budget Committee

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will speak Friday morning at the House Budget Committee in Washington. He was invited by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who saw an op-ed the former Florida governor wrote about removing barriers to free enterprise.

Committee spokesman Conor Sweeney said the discussion will explore the question recently posed by Bush in his op-ed: "Have we lost faith in the free-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism?"

But lest you think it's all about big business, the discussion will also look at how bloated federal budgets, tax loopholes, and regulatory favoritism have "tilted the deck in favor of the well-connected at the expense of the average citizen," Sweeney said. The hearing "will focus on how best to remove the barriers to upward mobility and put an end to cronyism in Washington."

Rivera's Cuban Readjustment Act reforms get a hearing

Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., had a hearing Thursday on his proposed changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Miami lawmaker wants to change the law to prohibit Cubans who claim political asylum in the United States from returning to the island nation. The proposal would revoke the residency status of any Cuban national who returns to Cuba after receiving political asylum and residency in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Since 1981, more than 500,000 Cubans have become permanent U.S. residents. (Or naturalized U.S. citizens.) On average, there have been about 45,000 new arrivals a year in recent years, Rivera's office said this week.

It's unclear, though, how many of those people actually return to Cuba each year. What is clear: Travel has become easier under the Obama administration, which eased rules that formerly allowed family members to return only every three years.

Critics of the bill, which has no co-sponsors, say that if it were to pass, it needs loopholes, including allowing people who seek asylum to return to Cuba to visit sick or dying relatives.

It "turns the act of travel to Cuba into a deportable offense," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee subcommittee that heard the bill.

"No matter what the reason for stepping foot in Cuba, you lose your status," Lofgren said. "If you go to visit family members you haven’t seen in years, you lose your status. If you go to attend a funeral or donate a kidney to a dying relative, you lose your status. If you go to meet with Cuban dissidents with the aim of transitioning Cuba to a democracy, you lose your status."

Rivera says that Cuban-Americans increasingly cite family reunification to justify travel that "in reality more closely resembles common tourism." Because many Cubans who seek asylum in the United States receive food stamps and other welfare benefits while they're acclimating to this country, Rivera says it's conceivable U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing some trips back to Cuba.

Lofgren said her office checked out that claim, and could find no examples of such abuse -- yet offered to help write legislation that would "revoke public benefits for any person who spent an inordinate amount of time in Cuba, absent truly extraordinary circumstances." Rivera's office turned down their offer, Lofgren said.

Immigration reform groups decry Marco Rubio's tax fraud bill

Some Hispanic advocacy groups who'd like to see immigration reform are unhappy with a tax fraud bill sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who they say is making it harder for poor immigrants who apply for a child tax credit with a taxpayer identification number instead of a social security number.

The National Conference of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, held a conference call Thursday to decry the bill. They say Rubio's bill does nothing to actually combat tax fraud, and that it flies in the face of the work he's trying to do to help young people with his version of the DREAM Act. That bill -- as yet unfiled -- would allow young people who came to this country through no fault of their own to stay here if they meet certain conditions, including going to college.

"Is Sen. Rubio playing politics? I can't really answer that," said Leticia Miranda, senior policy advisor for economic security policy at La Raza. "But I don't think it's a good political strategy to attract Hispanic voters by creating proposals that would deny 4 million Latino children for using the child tax credit."

Rubio told the Miami Herald Tuesday that his tax fraud bill is "the logical thing to do" and is based on concerns that some taxpayers filing for the credit are claiming children who don't live in the United States. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has a similar bill.

Continue reading "Immigration reform groups decry Marco Rubio's tax fraud bill" »

Federal judge strikes down part of state election law

In a much-anticipated decision, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle on Thursday struck down some provisions of a Florida elections law that imposed new restrictions on third-party groups that register new voters.

Hinkle's order said that a 48-hour deadline for groups to turn in new voter registration forms is "harsh and impractical." But he said most of the other provisions of the law can stand.

At issue are key elements of House Bill 1355, the elections code rewrite that passed the Legislature in the 2011 session. Following the restrictions on third-party voter registration, the League of Women Voters suspended all voter registration activity in Florida.

-- Steve Bousquet

State Rep. Joe Gibbons faces challenge from Surfside Commissioner

Surfside City Commissioner and Democrat Sheldon Lisbon announced that he will challenge state Rep. Joe Gibbons (Hallandale Beach) in House District 100 which overlaps Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Lisbon said in a press release that he has lived in Surfside since 1996 and teaches part-time at high schools in Dade County and has served as president of Young Israel of Bar Harbour.

Gibbons, a former city commissioner first elected to the house in 2006, has raised $24,800 so far.

Broward elections supervisor says voter rolls are clean

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes said Thursday that a little more than 50 of the 259 registered voters identified by the state as potential non-citizens have voted in the past.

At a press conference at the Voting Equipment Center in Lauderhill today Snipes provided updated information about her efforts to update the voter rolls in advance of the presidential election. Every election cycle counties remove voters who are dead, felons or inactive but the state has led a new controversial effort this year -- removing voters who aren’t citizens.

It’s illegal for non-citizens to vote, but Democrats have questioned why this “purge” inspired by Republican Gov. Rick Scott is happening just months before the presidential election.

Snipes sent letters to the 259 people identified on the state's list of potential noncitizens earlier this month at the direction of the state Division of Elections. So far, only about six have provided Snipes with documentation proving their citizenship -- including a Brooklyn-born World War II vet.

The majority of those on the list haven’t responded to Snipes -- some letters were returned undeliverable. Those on the list have 30 days to provide proof or face being removed from the list. Broward residents who receive such a letter can request a hearing with the supervisor’s office but so far no one has and Snipes has cleared a handful based on their documentation.

Snipes said her office has tried to contact those on the potential non-citizen list by phone and by spreading the word in communities where Haitians and Hispanics -- large immigrant groups in Broward -- live.

Sometimes residents register to vote without understanding what they are doing, she said.
As part of Florida’s motor-voter law, residents can register to vote when they get their drivers’ license.

“We won’t be rash in taking the individuals off the rolls...,” she said. “The most sacred right we all have is the right to vote.”

Snipes said Broward has removed “thousands” of felons and “over 9,000 deceased” registered voters.

The state Division of Elections initially identified roughly 180,000 potential noncitizens by searching a computer database from the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The drivers’ license list doesn’t automatically update when someone becomes a citizen.

The state whittled that list to more than 2,600 voters and forwarded those names to counties -- the largest contingent were Miami-Dade. Officials at the Dade supervisor of elections said earlier this week that 359 have provided proof that they are citizens, the county determined on its own that an additional 26 were citizens while 10 others either admitted they were ineligible or requested to be removed.

Home to more than 1 million voters, Broward has the largest contingent of Democratic voters in the state -- about 565,000.

Snipes said she is “very comfortable in the cleanliness of the rolls” in Broward.

New poll reveals Florida is still very divided over casino gambling

A new survey by Tampa pollster Paul Fallon shows that Floridians haven't budged too much from previous polls on their views about casino gambling: they're still deeply divided with 50 percent in support and 43 percent opposed. The percentage of people in support has grown, however, compared to a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times poll in January which found that 44 percent of likely voters in Florida opposed casino gambling while 42 percent were opposed, with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Here's Fallon's assessment:

Continue reading "New poll reveals Florida is still very divided over casino gambling" »