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Rick Scott fights DOJ, says it's protecting illegal voters more than legal ones, undermines Constitution

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration defiantly refused a federal demand to stop purging non-citizens from Florida’s voter rolls, intensifying an election-year confrontation with President Barack Obama’s administration as each side accuses the other of breaking federal law.

In a sharply worded letter, Scott’s top elections official claimed the Department of Justice doesn’t understand two federal voting laws at the heart of the dispute and was protecting potentially illegal voters more than legal ones.

Florida also accused another federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security, of violating the law by denying Florida access to a federal citizenship database.

“This hardly seems like an approach earnestly designed to protect the integrity of elections and to ensure that eligible voters have their votes counted,” said the letter, written by Scott’s hand-picked secretary of state, Ken Detzner, a fellow Republican.

Detzner also submitted a list of four questions that he wants the DOJ to answer.

In tone and substance, the letter all but dares the Justice Department to sue Florida for allegedly violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), nicknamed “motor voter.”

Last week, after the Justice Department letter came out, county election supervisors suspended the purge. Several said a list of nearly 2,700 potential non-citizen voters was unreliable.

The state’s latest action promises to escalate the debate over hunting down suspected illegal voters in the nation’s largest battleground state. Liberal groups, which requested DOJ involvement, condemned the Scott administration; conservatives praised it, slamming DOJ for its interference.

Meantime, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi refused to rule out suing Homeland Security to gain access to its database for voter-registration checking. From voting to healthcare to immigration, Scott and Bondi, both Republicans, have shown few reservations in challenging the Obama administration.

Story here

Here's the text of the letter:

T. Christian Herren
United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Voting Section – NWB
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

Re:    Florida’s Continuing Commitment to Protecting Citizen Voting Rights

Dear Mr. Herren:

I write in response to your letter of May 31, 2012, which questions the Florida Department of State’s ongoing efforts to protect the integrity of elections and to maintain current and accurate voter registration rolls.  Your letter suggests that the Department of Justice (DOJ) opposes these efforts, and reads federal law to prohibit Florida from verifying the eligibility of registered voters and removing non-citizens from its voter rolls. The Department of State respectfully disagrees with DOJ’s position. The actions taken by Florida to identify and remove non-citizens from its voter rolls ensure that the right to vote of citizens is protected and is not diluted by the votes of ineligible persons.

For nine months, Florida has sought access to the best available information to ensure the accuracy of our voter registration rolls: the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Because DHS has repeatedly blocked Florida’s access, we have been unable to send additional information to supervisors of elections since April 30, 2012. We continue to wait for access to the most current information available, and we respectfully reiterate our request for immediate access to the SAVE database.

At the outset, it is important to note that the process initiated by the Florida Department of State has identified registered voters who, by their own admission, are not United States citizens. These ineligible persons have been appropriately removed from the voter rolls.  Pursuant to Florida law, no person has been or will be removed from the voter rolls without the fundamentals of due process: notice, an opportunity to be heard, and a determination by the county supervisor of elections that a preponderance of the evidence shows the voter is ineligible.

Under section 98.075, Florida Statutes, a law which has been duly precleared by the Department of Justice, a supervisor of elections must take the following actions before any person’s name may be removed from the statewide voter registration system:

•    Notify the registered voter of his or her potential ineligibility by certified mail, return receipt requested, including any documentation upon which the potential ineligibility is based;
•    Allow the registered voter 30 days to respond by admitting or denying the accuracy of the information underlying the potential ineligibility;
•    Provide the registered voter a hearing, if requested, for the purpose of determining eligibility;
•    If the mailed notice is returned as undeliverable, publish notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where the voter was last registered, with an additional 30-day opportunity for the registered voter to resolve the matter;
•    At the conclusion of the notice and hearing process, make a final determination of the voter’s eligibility based on a preponderance of the evidence before the supervisor of elections;
•    Allow for an additional appeal of any determination of ineligibility before a state circuit court.

Other duly-precleared Florida laws provide additional safeguards to protect the rights of lawfully registered voters. See § 98.081(2), Fla. Stat. (providing for restoration of any voter erroneously removed from the statewide voter registration system); § 101.048, Fla. Stat. (allowing any voter whose eligibility cannot be determined to vote a provisional ballot).

As explained below, Florida’s implementation of these state statutes is fully consistent with federal law.

The Voting Rights Act

Florida’s actions are consistent with the Voting Rights Act.  The State of Florida is not a covered jurisdiction subject to the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  As for the role of the supervisors of elections in Florida’s five covered counties, they are simply administering a law that the Department of Justice has duly precleared. See § 98.075, Fla. Stat.

The National Voter Registration Act

Florida’s actions are also consistent with the National Voter Registration Act. DOJ’s reading of the NVRA would grant greater protection against removal from the voter rolls to non-citizens—who were never eligible to vote—than to other categories of registered voters (such as deceased persons, convicted felons, and the mentally incompetent) who may have lawfully been on the rolls at one time but have later become ineligible.  Such a result is plainly contrary to the NVRA’s express purpose of “ensur[ing] that accurate and current voter registration rolls are maintained.” 42 U.S.C. § 1973gg(b)(4).

If the effect of the NVRA is to force a state to allow never-eligible non-citizens the opportunity to vote, then the statute might violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which guarantees that the right to vote cannot be denied by a dilution of the weight of a citizen’s vote. If DOJ applies the NVRA in this manner, then presumably eligible voters in Florida have the right to bring a lawsuit in federal court to test whether their votes are being unconstitutionally denied by the federal government.

Your letter suggests that Florida’s efforts to identify and remove non-citizens who have illegally registered to vote violate the NVRA because we are now within ninety days of a federal election. Even if the ninety-day provision were read to provide for this result—that is, prohibiting a state from removing non-citizens from the voter rolls three months prior to a federal election—nothing in the NVRA would prohibit Florida from simply gathering information about persons who have illegally registered. That information, even if not used to remove improperly-registered persons now, could be used after a federal election to remove those persons from the rolls or to prosecute them if they illegally voted.

Finally, even assuming the NVRA’s ninety-day provision applies to the type of individualized assessment at issue here, Florida has entered that period only because DHS has repeatedly ignored or rebuffed Florida’s efforts to gain access to the SAVE database—access that was necessary for successful and accurate completion of Florida’s efforts to ensure the integrity of its voter registration rolls. For your reference, I have attached to this letter a chain of emails dating back nine months, which demonstrates DHS’s refusals and delays in this regard.

By denying Florida access to the SAVE database, DHS appears to have violated federal law, which provides that states may use the SAVE database “for any legal purpose such as . . . voter registration,” and that  DHS “shall respond to an inquiry by a . . . State . . . government agency . . . seeking to verify or ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of any individual within the jurisdiction of the agency for any purpose authorized by law, by providing the requested verification or status information.”  76 Fed. Reg. 58525, 58527 (Sept. 21, 2011); 7 U.S.C. § 1373(d). 

In sum, the practice DOJ now appears to be endorsing is as follows: the federal Department of Homeland Security may, for months, violate federal law and deny Florida and other states access to the SAVE database so that the federal Department of Justice may then assert that the resulting delays in a state’s election-integrity efforts violate the time periods established in another federal law. This hardly seems like an approach earnestly designed to protect the integrity of elections and to ensure that eligible voters have their votes counted.

Conclusion

    It is an unfortunate but now undeniable fact that Florida’s voter rolls include individuals who are not citizens of the United States. The Florida Department of State has a solemn obligation to ensure the integrity of elections in this State. Permitting ineligible, non-citizen voters to cast ballots undermines that mission and erodes the justified faith the electorate has in the fairness and reliability of the electoral process.  To enable the Department of State to meet its responsibility to enforce both federal and state law, and to determine what further action may be necessary, please provide us with answers to the following questions by June 11:

(1)    Does the DOJ agree that the Department of Homeland Security has a legal obligation to provide Florida access to the SAVE database?

(2)    Is it the DOJ’s position that the NVRA prohibits any actions by Florida to identify and remove non-citizens from its voter registration rolls between today’s date and the date of the November 6 General Election?

(3)    If not, what steps does the DOJ believe Florida may take to identify and remove non-citizens from its voter registration rolls between today’s date and the date of the November 6 General Election?

(4)    If the DOJ’s position is that the NVRA prohibits Florida from removing non-citizens from its voter registration rolls between today’s date and the date of the November 6 General Election, is it the DOJ’s position that the NVRA prohibits Florida from taking action to even identify non-citizens on its voter registration rolls for later removal and, if warranted by the facts and law, prosecution by appropriate law enforcement authorities?

Sincerely,





Ken Detzner
Secretary of State

cc:    Attorney General Pam Bondi
    Elise Sandra Shore, Esq.

Comments

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Carl Haun

1) Destroy the economy....Check.

2) Bail out the private banks with taxpayer money. In the form of debt. To be borne upon the backs of the public.... Check.

3) "Elect" far right Tea Party Republicans who favor corporations and corporate profits over the well being of the middle class constituents....Check.

4) And, now, disenfranchise "select" voters by state-wide "purging" of the voter rolls.

We are rolling towards Fascism at a breakneck pace, people.

May God have mercy on us. The government won't. We will rue the day, sometime soon, that we allowed this all to happen.

..

Peter Dale

So why are their people on the list provided by the Governor eligable to vote? While it appears that they should be allow access to the DHS list, they have the opportunity to sue for the list if it was that important. Why have they not done that and why did they wait until it would be harder for people to perhaps get birth certificates or other proof when needed. It appears to be a repeat of 2000 all over again.
Of course put a crook in office and laws mean nothing.

nodemocracy


What is going on is trying to get the votes for both candidates close enough so that the count can be corrupted in favor of the Republican candidates.

It is not a problem of the voters but the coruption of the vote counters.

May

Really Carl? Yet most of my teaparty friends are small business people who are losing their businesses thanks to big corporations having the edge (Corportism)and Corporate Welfare. Even though our credit is perfect, we cannot get loans to fund our businesses! This is also while we look around at the record spending of our local and federal gov't. This steals capital from us, the small business taxpayers! You are EXTREMELY misinformed! The Middle class is being screwed right now more than any other time in history thanks to Obama's OVERREGULATIONS punishing the small business person! We are frozen thanks to big government! Keep in mind most of us teaparty folks were NEVER involved in politics under Bush started TARP. Carl, don't listen to MSNBC, CNN and the Huffington Post! And most of all, Don't be a SLAVE to your party!

Lindad

what do you expect from a beer lobbyist?

Turkeysocks

You are pretty wrong there May. There is no "overregulations" going on, just actual REGULATING that has been neglected for the past 8 years under Bush.

They aren't getting loans because of "overregulations". Why aren't they getting loans? I cannot say, but it has nothing to do regulations, that is for sure.

As for your Tea Party friends, I have news for you. The Tea Party folks in office have done nothing for the average American, they've voted for items that are boons for corporations, but have voted down any bill that would've helped middle and lower class Americans. They didn't run to help or ease this situation, they only ran to make Obama a one term president. Every single person who ran for a national office under the Tea Party/Republican banner all said something along the lines of "Make Obama a one term president".

I got news for you May, to make him a one term president, they have to screw over Americans.

Carl isn't the slave to his party, it's you who's a slave to your own.

Ralph Harrison

What the State of Florida seems to be requesting seems to be fair provided there is some other reason that the SAVE database is not available to be used in such a manner such as it might encroach upon our National Security. Also to be fair, the State of Florida should have to show valid proof that as much time has been spent scouring the roles of all white districts as those district containing primarily people of color. Finally, if the registrants are to be threatened with post election penalties, I would think it only fair that the State Election Board members and their directors (to include the governor himself) be likewise held liable in a criminal sense for any evidence of document tampering or any other type of mis-dealings that might show they are inappropriately persecuting a particular class of people in their state by attempting to take away their legal right to vote.

Liberty27

Article I in the Constitution describes the powers of congress. It is Section I that I am concerned about. Governor Rick Scott of Florida continues to cross over from his Executive Branch to the Judicial Branch. He continues to add on additional punishment after the contract of due process has been handed down by a court of law, served and completed by an individual.

Our country is changing at such a rapid pace and not for the better.
We talk of voter fraud this election year but what about the nearly one million tax paying citizens who have completed their contracts handed down to them by a court of law by completing due process and are still being denied the right to vote in Florida? Florida has some of the harshest disenfranchisement laws for voters in the country. The other 47 states in our country restore these rights after completion of sentence. Gov Scott and Pam Bondi have extended this disenfranchisement to last a life time for most of these men and women. Only 78 had their rights restored last year by the Florida Executive Board of Clemency. Their agenda is not to help these men and women, who served their time, get reestablished back into their communities. They must continue to struggle as second class citizens along with their families’ right along side of them.

I have always loved history. It was always my favorite subject in high
school and college. I have always felt that if we failed to learn from the lessons that history teaches us we are bound to repeat the same mistakes. Our founding fathers established a government that they wanted to stand the test of time. By forming our Constitution grounded on moral Christian truths and values of the ages was perfect. They knew that these truths were constant and will never change. Our constitution is being eroded and watered down by today's moral decay. Some politicians down through the centuries have always bent to the popular demands of the people of their day. We have a silent majority in this country that I believe can turn this around.

I am passionate about civil rights. I served to help defend those rights in the military when my country put out the call for service. I see our freedoms and liberties that are supposed to be protected by our constitution not being preserved. Many are saying that this document is outdated and should be revised or even replaced. If we are not diligent in protecting these freedoms they can be taken away from us. Freedom is not free but comes with a price. My website www.aarcr.org is meant to open up a dialogue about what is currently happening in our country. Every year the number of Americans that are being disenfranchised as American citizens is increasing. We are not addressing the root problems of this rise but only putting people away for awhile as a fix all and not trying to help them get reestablished after they have paid their debt to society. The problem for these men and women started in the family but we can help to reeducate and rehabilitate these individuals at a far lower cost and help to give them a new lease on life. Our country spent over $74 billion dollars last year in growing our correctional system. This system is broke. There is a better way. It is sad to say that we were not all created equal in how we were raised as a child. A good many were brought up in broken homes and dysfunctional families and had to fend for themselves because the parent was either to busy working to pay the bills or just did not care. There is something terribly wrong with this. There is a better way. Put them away and throw away the key I have heard some say. When this hits closer to home I do not believe they will be feeling this way. This is what I believe to be true:

Justice without serving a function is oppression.
Punishment without serving a purpose is persecution.

Our justice system in this country is broke and in need of major repairs. Our country has become addicted to incarceration. This has become the fix all for everything. Our United States has the highest incarceration numbers in the world. As of 2011 we had 2.3 million men and women behind bars according to the International Center for Prison Studies. In comparison China has four times our population and is a distant second with 1.6 million people behind bars and we lecture them on human rights. Our next generation has some urgent decisions to make. Do we continue down this road of statues quo or do we get back to the basics of what our constitution represents?

The Brave men and women who went before us dedicated their lives that our nation remains free from tyranny and continue to be established as a government of the people, by the people and for the people; that the civil rights and civil liberties of its citizens be protected under our nation’s constitution. These decisions will establish the future legacy of our great nation. Do you want to part of the solution or do you want to just sit back and complain about the results of a failing system? Contact your congressman and demand a change. If they do not listen fire them. Together we can restore democracy and civil rights for all Americans by reestablishing a government of the people, by the people and for the people in that these rights continue to be protected in spite of race, color, gender or previous condition of penal servitude. Every human being deserves a second chance, a fair chance at living free from persecution and oppression. You may be just one voice but together we are strong; undivided and united we will be heard.
www.aarcr.org

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