Florida Voter Purge Lawsuit Heads Back to Court


John Garcia, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, jgarcia@latinojustice.org, 212-739-7513;
Cynthia Gordy, Advancement Project, cgordy@advancementproject.org, 718-755-4340;
Sarah Massey, Project Vote, smassey@projectvote.org, 202 240-6614;
Kristen Muthig, Fair Elections Legal Network, kmuthig@fairelectionsnetwork.com, 202-331-0114

Miami – Florida’s 2012 voter purge program goes to court again on Thursday, when a three-judge panel hears oral argument in a lawsuit challenging the initiative. A coalition of civil rights groups – Project Vote, Fair Elections Legal Network, Advancement Project and LatinoJustice PRLDEF, as well as SEIU and law firms Jenner & Block LLP and Chavez & de Leon, which are handling the case pro bono – will argue that Gov. Rick Scott’s voter purge activities in 2012 violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which stipulates that systematic list maintenance programs must not be undertaken within 90 days of a federal election.

In October 2012, the district court held that the 90-day rule did not apply to Florida’s purge of suspected non-citizens, limiting the reach of the NVRA’s prohibitions on election-eve purges. On Thursday, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit will hear the Plaintiffs’ appeal of that ruling.

Last year, the parties settled a separate discrimination claim in the same case, filed on behalf of Karla Arcia and Melande Antoine, two Miami citizens who were wrongly targeted as non-citizens under Florida’s voter purge, and five organizational plaintiffs – Veyeyo, Florida Immigrant Coalition, National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, Florida New Majority and 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Works East-Florida.

Of the nearly 2,700 registered voters that the state flagged as alleged non-citizens by using the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles database, more than 82 percent were people of color, and many turned out to be eligible citizens. In the discrimination claim settlement, Florida agreed to suspend that purge program, as well as inform all citizens on the purge list that their voting rights would be restored and that they would not have to vote a provisional ballot.

On Thursday, the groups will argue the case’s second claim, under the NVRA. Because the initial DHSMV-based purge also fell within 90 days of Florida’s August 2012 congressional primary elections, they believe that it was in violation of the NVRA’s prohibitions against purging within 90 days before a federal election.

This “quiet period” is needed to protect the integrity of the election process, along with fundamental voting rights. In addition to the initial purge activities, after the discrimination settlement, Florida announced plans to again try removing suspected non-citizens from the voter rolls by accessing the Department of Homeland Security’s SAVE database – further infringing upon the 90-day rule.

“The National Voter Registration act prohibits purge activities within 90 days of a federal election because of the potential for error and voter intimidation,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “In last year’s purge we saw a shameful rate of error among the voters targeted during the NVRA quiet period, and the program also had a chilling effect on Florida’s immigrant community through intimidating letters that threatened to remove naturalized citizens from the voter rolls. It is essential to the integrity of our elections that we ensure politicians are not allowed to stand in the way of legitimate voters trying to exercise the most the most fundamental right in our democracy – the right to vote.”

"This lawsuit seeks to protect eligible voters in every county in Florida from walking into a polling place and discovering that the state has erroneously decreed that they cannot participate in an election,” said Michael Slater, Executive Director of Project Vote. “Last-minute purges put eligible voters at risk. Florida has a history of purging eligible voters, and we need to make sure that history does not repeat itself.”

“As we have been contending for the past year and a half, Florida's continuing efforts to identify and remove alleged non-citizens from the voter rolls violates federal law,” said Jose L. Perez, Deputy General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Florida's ongoing purges are likely to strip voting rights from thousands of eligible citizens, and particularly have a disparate impact on Latino immigrants who have complied with all federal requirements to become naturalized U.S. citizens.”

“Florida, with its history of inaccurate purges which have penalized innocent voters, should proceed with caution,” added Robert M. Brandon, President of the Fair Elections Legal Network. “Once someone unfairly loses their vote, they cannot get it back. Our organizations have come together in this suit to ensure someone is speaking out for the average voter.” "Thus far, each purge list developed by the state has included citizens who are eligible to vote, calling into question the state’s ability to produce an accurate list of non-voters,” said Monica Russo, President of SEIU Florida State Council. “Our goal is to ensure that no eligible voter is disenfranchised because of the state’s mistakes and its reckless haste in identifying ineligible voters."

The oral argument is scheduled for Thursday, October 10 at 9:00 a.m. ET, at the 12th Floor Courtroom of the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building (99 N.E. 4th Street, Miami). Marc Goldman of Jenner & Block LLP will argue on behalf of the Plaintiffs who are appealing.

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