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Florida Defies Feds On Voter Roll Purge

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(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Governor Rick Scott refused a federal demand that it stop hunting and purging non-citizens from Florida’s voter rolls, according to CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald.

The response to the Justice Department’s initial request said the DOJ doesn’t understand two federal voting laws at the heart of the dispute and accused the Department of Homeland Security of breaking a federal law for refusing access to a federal citizenship database, according to the Herald.

The move was widely expected and it could set up a fight between the state and the federal government similar to the one about to be decided over the federal health care law.

At an event in central Florida Wednesday, a protester stood up wearing  a T-shirt that said “Purge Rick Scott. Let us vote.”

Flora McCall of New Smyrna Beach explained, ”I think this is the biggest threat we have to our democratic way of life and it has to be stopped.”

Broward County already stopped purging its rolls. Miami-Dade County did the same after the elections office says a third of the potential non-citizens the office contacted either provided, or planned to provide proof of citizenship.

Miami-Dade Deputy Elections Supervisor, Christina White said, “that made us stop and say to ourselves ‘maybe this isn’t the most up to date information’ so we stopped and decided we weren’t going to be removing anyone for non-response. We would only be removing people who were ineligible and admitted ineligibility and we stopped and asked the state to take a better look at those name cross check them against more updated data sources.”

The Governor said  he needs updated information from the Federal Government, but he’s still standing firm in his position. “We’ve been asking for the database from Homeland Security since last year. They still haven’t given it to us,” Scott said.

Both Miami-Dade and Broward elections officials said they will not change any of their procedures in response to Wednesday’s deadline.  White said, “If and when the state provides us with better documentation supporting their position on these non-citizens we will proceed from there.”

But, the actual instances of voter fraud are far from being in a statewide crisis.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported a total of 178 cases of voter fraud sent to its department since 2000. Out of those cases, a total of 11 arrests have been made.

Attorney general Pam Bondi’s office has three open cases dealing with voting in her office, but the cases deal with early registration violations due to a law that was recently overturned by a federal judge.

Most of the decline in voter fraud cases has been since a 2004 law requiring a signature from witnesses on absentee ballots was eliminated by the state legislature.

“I’ve not heard [of], since that law was changed, any prosecutors in Florida who really have been able to put together a case on absentee-ballot fraud,” Miami-Dade State Attorney office spokesman Ed Griffith told the Sentinel.

Still, Governor Scott has ordered that local elections departments purge “non-citizens” from their voter rolls.

The Department of Justice has asked the state to stop the purge, but Scott and the rest of the state government have indicated they will continue to pursue the voter purge even if it means challenging the federal government in court.

Part of the problem is the purge, according to critics, has unfairly targeted Hispanics. CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald found that 58 percent of those identified in the rolls were Hispanics, despite Hispanics making up just 13 percent of the 11.3 million active registered voters in Florida.

Whites and Republicans were the least-likely to face the threat of removal, the Herald found. Governor Scott denied in comments made to CBS4 that the purge was unfairly targeting minorities and groups that tend to vote Democratic.

A fight over purged rolls isn’t anything new to Florida. Thousands of eligible voters were removed from rolls in the months leading up to the 2000 election. During that purge, the voters were erroneously listed as felons, which prevented them from voting, according to National Public Radio. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris headed up the 2000 voter roll purge.

As Tim Russert of NBC News famously said about presidential elections, “It’s all about Florida.” In 2012, it could be another long night for Florida elections officials as a court battle looms over Governor Scott’s plans to scrub the voter rolls.

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