Another lawsuit has been filed in an attempt by minority groups and voting rights organizations to stop Florida’s legally questionable purge of names from state voting rolls as the controversy begins to take a political toll on Gov. Rick Scott.
A total of four lawsuits have been brought forward regarding the state of Florida’s last-second effort to identify and remove as many as 200,000 people Gov. Scott and his secretary of state believe are non-citizens illegally registered to vote before this fall’s election. Until this week, these other suits and the federal government’s challenge of Florida’s attempt to remove non-citizens from voter registration lists have stayed away from direct accusations of racism or attacks on specific ethnic groups, focusing more on the state’s flawed process.
The latest suit not only seeks to halt the state’s purge on grounds that it violates federal election law barring large-scale voter purges less than 90 days before an election, but also that the state is intentionally and ruthlessly discriminating against Hispanics and Latino immigrants.
Minority activists have already been critical of previous voting restrictions imposed by Gov. Scott and the secretary of state’ s office that overwhelmingly impact minority voters, from reducing the number of early voting days to making it harder for new citizens to register to vote. The new suit alleging blatant discrimination comes as the governor and state election officials seek to downplay any racial or ethnic overtones to their bid to eradicate what they say are thousands of “non-citizens” carrying out voter fraud.
Florida is again being sued over its contentious push to remove potentially ineligible voters from the rolls.
Several groups that work with immigrants, Haitian-Americans and Puerto Ricans are filing a lawsuit Tuesday in a Miami federal court. It now marks the fourth lawsuit surrounding the effort started last year by Gov. Rick Scott to try to identify non-U.S. citizens who are registered voters.
This latest lawsuit contends that the push to remove voters violates federal law because it is within 90 days of an election. But those behind the lawsuit also contend the effort is discriminatory because Hispanics represent a majority of those whose names were on the list drawn up by state election officials. Two of those involved in the lawsuit are registered voters who were on the list even though they are naturalized citizens.
“This last-minute action is a partisan effort to suppress the vote,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project, whose group is helping with the lawsuit. “We can’t allow partisans to decide that they are going to burden the right to vote for their own gain. American citizens who want to vote should not have to face this kind of extra burden and barrier to voting.”
Browne-Dianis also called the Florida lawsuit “a warning to other states” contemplating a similar push to remove voters.
A spokesman for Florida’s secretary of state called the lawsuit “ridiculous” and challenged assertions that the purge is intended to target Hispanic residents.
“It is ridiculous to suggest that our process to identify and remove voters is in any way discriminatory,” said Chris Cate. “The only criteria we are concerned about is whether or not someone is in fact ineligible and if so they should not be allowed to cast a ballot.”
The lawsuit from minority rights groups comes just days after the ACLU also launched a court challenge to Florida’s voter purge, calling it “illegal” and accusing Gov. Scott of “assaulting democracy” by intimidating legally registered voters by demanding that they prove their citizenship in order to cast a ballot.
Despite vocal and consistent protest from the state and the governor’s office, data suggests that Florida is doing exactly what critics and the plaintiffs behind the latest lawsuit to challenge the voter purge are alleging; unfairly singling out Hispanics and Latinos and forcing them to prove their citizenship or be stripped of their voting rights.
A Miami Herald report found that 60 percent of the people named on state lists of suspected “non-citizens” were Hispanic, despite Hispanics accounting for just 13 percent of active registered voters. And minorities overall are far more likely to be flagged by the state on its various lists of non-citizens than white voters.
So far, Florida has flagged 2,700 potential noncitizen voters and sent the list to county elections supervisors, who have found the data and methodology to be flawed and problematic. The list of potential noncitizen voters – many of whom have turned out to be lawful citizens and voters – disproportionately hits minorities, especially Hispanics.
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.
Independent voters and Democrats are the most likely to face being purged from the rolls. Republicans and non-Hispanic whites are the least likely to face removal.
Such lopsided numbers are beginning to drive a wedge between Republicans in the state who have largely stood behind Scott and his cabinet in fighting to continue the purge.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, a prominent and rising Republican in state politics, has voiced public opposition to the governor’s policy, saying it is “scaring people” and that the state should instead ”encourage people to register and vote.”
I have not spoken to the governor. And, you know, and I understand the governor is trying to cater to the conservatives, but that’s not the way to do it. I mean, I don’t see thousands of people not citizens voting here in South Florida. I mean, throughout the years, we have seen in the United States – remember Chicago many years ago – people that were dead voting and all that.
But other than that, those are unique cases. I don’t think that there is, like, this massive fraud. What we should do is encourage people to register and vote if you are citizens, because the problem is that all these controversies about voters and investigators and Justice Department and police after the voters is scaring people to vote.
The people are going to say, well, it’s too much trouble. So I might as well don’t even bother to vote. And that’s wrong
Backing up concern that the emotional damage of Florida’s hunt for non-citizen voters could be more devastating than the actual results are reports of numerous legal citizens and properly registered voters not only being asked to provide their papers but being removed from voter rolls in at least two counties.
Contrary to Gov. Scott’s assurances that no legal voter has been disenfranchised, an unknown number of them are confirmed to have been removed from voter lists in Lee and Collier counties. Voting rights activists say the atmosphere is “threatening” and that voters, especially Hispanics, are living in “fear.”
Adding to the anger and puzzlement from the groups targeted in the state’s purge of supposedly questionable voters is the almost complete lack of confirmed voter fraud in Florida.
Warnings of illegal votes and mass fraud are used by Gov. Scott and state officials to justify their campaign, claiming it is the only way to ensure “fair” election contests. But statistics from the state’s own databases prove those worries to be unfounded and in no way comparable to the potential damage of illegally disfranchising as many as 200,000 legitimate citizens.
There have been less than 200 cases of alleged voter fraud in the Sunshine State since 2000, and no cases of voter registration fraud since a state law was changed in 2004. Voter fraud is “just not widespread,” according to the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.
Gov. Rick Scott and his Department of State have been talking about voter fraud in Florida since 2011, shortly after Scott took office.
“We need to have fair elections,” Scott said Monday, justifying the identification of more than 2,600 “noncitizens” that the state recently urged county supervisors of elections to purge from the voter rolls. That followed a 2011 legislative rewrite of the election law, again in the name of preventing fraud.
“When you go out to vote, you want to make sure that the other individuals that are voting have a right to vote,” Scott added.
But notwithstanding the concerns of Scott and Republican legislators, state records show that voter fraud simply hasn’t been a problem for the past decade.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 178 cases of alleged voter fraud have been referred to the department since 2000. FDLE’s spreadsheet showed 11 arrests, but that apparently didn’t include a 2009 bust of ACORN registration volunteers in Miami-Dade that yielded seven convictions and sentences ranging from probation to 72 days in jail.
“It’s just not widespread,” said Vicki Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections and the supervisor for Martin County.
The growing controversy and mounting legal fights arebeginning to take a political toll on the governor’s popularity and his efforts to win over moderates and independent voters as the national Republican Party prepares to hold its nominating convention in one of the most important swing states in this November’s presidential election.
Florida voters are actually opposed to the voter purge in somewhat overwhelming numbers,by a margin of 50 percent to just 34 percent in favor of the governor’s effort. The agitation has also eroded Scott’s overall approval rating at a sensitive time for the national party, though his aggressive hunt for as-yet phantom illegal voters is winning cheers from far-right conservative and “Tea Party” groups nationwide.
Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign to purge “noncitizens” from Florida voting rolls may be hurting his popularity. But among conservative groups, including the tea party members who propelled him into office in 2010, it is resonating strongly.
Scott’s office has received dozens of emails supporting his efforts, which have brought national attention to the state and have spurred a series of lawsuits between Florida and the federal government.
Scott’s aggressive crusade on the voting rolls runs counter to his more recent efforts to polish his public image by making himself more accessible and seeking to accommodate lawmakers, the media and other groups. It is more reminiscent of Scott’s early days in office, when he pushed a controversial agenda and drew more opposition.
Politically, Scott is raising his profile nationally at a time when his state will be in the middle of a hotly contested presidential campaign, including hosting the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August.
And while his move may be antagonizing Democrats and more moderate voters, Scott is playing to an audience where he has a natural political rapport: tea party activists and other conservative GOP groups.
A recent survey from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic survey firm from North Carolina, showed a majority of Floridians oppose the purge — 50 percent to 34 percent. It also showed Scott’s approval rating had dropped to 31 percent among voters, with the pollsters attributing some of the drop to the purge issue.