TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A federal appeals court has sided with a controversial former Broward County elections supervisor in a legal battle about whether she took proper steps to remove ineligible voters from election rolls.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a lower-court decision that said former Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes had adequately complied with requirements in federal elections laws.

In doing so, the panel ruled against the Virginia-based American Civil Rights Union, which filed the lawsuit in 2016 and contended that Snipes had not properly made efforts to remove ineligible voters such as people who had felony convictions.

The 39-page ruling focused heavily on a federal law known as the National Voter Registration Act, which includes requirements for elections officials to remove ineligible voters. The ruling said the law only requires elections officials to remove voters who become ineligible because of death or change of address — though it allows them to remove ineligible voters for other reasons such as criminal convictions or mental incapacity.

The Atlanta-based appeals court said the American Civil Rights Union incorrectly argued that Snipes was required by the federal law to go beyond removing voters because of death or change of address.

Writing for the court Thursday, Judge Stanley Marcus said the “statute could not be clearer: the states and their subsidiaries are required to conduct a general program of list maintenance that makes a reasonable effort to remove voters who become ineligible on account of death or change of residence, and only on those two accounts.”

“What ACRU (the American Civil Rights Union) really has asked us to do is to rewrite the statute so as to treat all of the categories of ineligibility in the same way,” added Marcus, who was joined in the ruling by judges Britt Grant and Frank Hull. “It would have us read the statute as imposing on the states a general program of list maintenance that makes a reasonable effort to remove any ineligible voter, regardless of the basis of ineligibility. But we may not rewrite the unambiguous text, where Congress has been crystal clear in treating different categories of ineligibility in different ways.”

Removing ineligible voters has long been a controversial issue in Florida and other states, with many Republicans warning about fraudulent voting — and Democrats contending that little evidence exists of improprieties.

The American Civil Rights Union, whose board includes Reagan administration officials such as former Attorney General Edwin Meese, said in a news release last year after filing the appeal that rampant voter fraud was possible because Snipes had not properly maintained voter lists.

Snipes and Broward County, a Democratic stronghold, have repeatedly been in the middle of controversies about elections processes.

Then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, issued an executive order in November that suspended Snipes because of problems during the 2018 elections and replaced her with a Scott ally, Pete Antonacci. Snipes filed a federal lawsuit challenging the suspension. That litigation ended after Scott’s successor, Gov. Ron DeSantis, issued a subsequent executive order that accepted Snipes’ resignation in January.

(©2019 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)

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