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Post mea culpa, Florida still at odds with civil rights groups on 2012 purge

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner may have spent the last week apologizing for the 2012 purge of non-citizens, but opening arguments started today in a trial that shows the controversy lives on.

A coalition of civil rights and union groups -- Project Vote, Fair Elections Legal Network, Advancement Project, SEIU and LatinoJusticePRLDEF -- argued Thursday before a U.S. Appeals for the 11th Circuit panel in Miami that last year’s purge violated the National Voter Registration Act.

It’s an appeal of a ruling last year by the Southern District of Florida that struck down the claim, filed on behalf of Karla Arcia, a Nicaraguan-American, and Melande Antoine, a Haitian-American. Both were Miami-Dade residents and U.S. citizens who were notified within 90 days of the August primary that they were non-citizens.

Detzner now says that the data used to identify the batch of voters during that period was faulty. But the state still maintains that the timing of alerting the voters that they were identified as non-citizens was appropriate and part of a necessary process called “list maintenance.”

Not so with the coalition. They argue that list maintenance, which is a euphemism for the systemic removal of non-eligible voters from registries, should only be done within 90 days of an election for specific events, such as deaths, felony convictions, adjudication of mental incapacity, or a change of address upon the request of the voter. Non-citizenship doesn’t meet that criteria that’s outlined in federal law, they argue.

Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, director of voter protection program of Advancement Project, says the purge shouldn’t have taken place within 90 days of the primary because that didn’t provide enough time for a response by voters if they were incorrectly identified.

“We believed the lower court was incorrect and that there should be a quiet period before an election or a primary,” Culliton-Gonzalez said.

“Last-minute purges put eligible voters at risk,” said Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote. “Florida has a history of purging eligible voters, and we need to make sure that history does not repeat itself.”

The three judges are Beverly B. Martin, Adalberto Jordan and Richard F. Furheinrich.