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Supervisors to halt voter purge because of unreliable list

In light of the federal government's objections and a potentially flawed set of data, Florida's elections supervisors will stop using the error-prone list to purge non-citizens from the voting rolls, supervisors of elections officials said Friday.

"My advice under these circumstances, and based upon the previous issues that have been presented concerning the list, as well as the fact that the Department has indicated its intent to take further action to review its list to determine its validity, I recommend that Supervisors of Elections cease any further action until the issues raised by the Department of Justice are resolved between the parties or by a Court,'' wrote Ron Labasky, general counsel for Florida Association of Supervisors of Election. Download 2012.06.01_-_Legal_Update_to_Supervisors

Christina White, deputy supervisor of elections for Miami Dade County, said that the county had already stopped purging voters who failed to respond to their inquiries prior to the recommendation from Labasky. 
"We said, let's stop; let's ask the Division of Elections to take another look at these names and, only after they perform a secondary look, will we go forward,'' White said. "We were not going to be removing any voters as a result of this particular program for lack of response. The only people we have removed were those people who admitted ineligibility.''
Of the 1,637 names the state suspected were noncitizens, 13 were removed from the list after they were contacted, she said. Another 450 provided proof of citizenship and 32 others called and said they were citizens and they are forwarding the county their documents.

Of the 13 individuals removed from the voter rolls, two of them had voted in previous elections, she said. One person voted one time, another voted many years ago when the person first registered but had not voted since. Both names were referred to the state attorney's office which must decide whether or not the prosecute, White said.

 Vicki Davis, Martin County Supervisor of Election and president of the association, told the Herald/Times she expects all 67 of Florida's elections officials to follow Labasky's advice.

"If supervisors do have reliable information that a voter is no longer eligible, then by all means we want them to process that voter accordingly,'' Davis said. "But from those they haven’t heard from or those that are questionable, we are saying just stop."

The decision comes a day after the U.S. Department of Justice ordered the state to stop its systematic attempt at cleaning the voter rolls saying that the effort appears to violate both the 1965 Voting Rights Act and a 1993 that requires the state to halt any purge of voter rolls 90 days before an election.

In a letter to the state's elections supervisors, Labasky urged them to refrain from continuing the flawed purge process which was started at Gov. Rick Scott’s direction in April.

The Department of State used a formula to determine that an estimated 180,000 voters were wrongly on the voter rolls, Labasky said, and flagged at least 2,700 potential noncitizens among them. The state then asked county elections supervisors to verify the list and remove those who are ineligible but county officials found the list was filed with inaccuracies, including listing many eligible voters as non-citizens.

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.

"Ultimately, it's their call to make,'' said Chris Cate, spokesman for the Department of State said of the supervisors' decision. "We would encourage them, if they believe they have reliable information that someone is an ineligible voter, those persons should be removed."

The U.S. Department of Justice gave Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner until June 6 to respond their concerns. Cate said the department continues to believe it is operating within the law and will urge supervisors to continue to remove people from the list they deem ineligible.

“We will have a response to DOJ, but we are committed to doing the right thing and prevent ineligible voters from voting,’’ he said. “We have been following the law throughout this whole process.”

Detzner, however, blames the federal government for the inaccuracy of Florida's voting rolls, saying the Department of Homeland Security has a legal obligation to give the state access to its immigration data, from the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program, but has refused to give the state access.

"Some ofthe issues we have with the reliability of the information could be solved if we were able to get access to a Homeland Security database," Cate said.

Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry on Friday also came out swinging at the Obama administration.

"With a single phone call, President Obama could have the data from this federal program immediately released to the states," Curry said in a statement. "So, I ask all Floridians who care about the integrity of our elections to contact the White House immediately. Tell the President we need to stop illegal voters and need the SAVE data released today."

In a press release, the RPOF quoted SAVE's mission statement, which touts that the database provides "immigration status information to authorized agencies to assist them in maintaining the integrity of their programs." 
Colorado as well as Florida officials have sought access to the information to help them better identify illegal voters.