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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Time Limit for Florida to Remove Illegal Voters

(CN) - A federal judge has refused to block Florida's plan to remove potential noncitizens from the voter rolls with the election just 26 days away.

In implementing a program designed to purge alleged noncitizens from the state's voter rolls, Florida compared information from its Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles against federal databases to determine if certain registered voters had been naturalized as U.S. citizens and could legally vote in the upcoming elections. The secretary of state sent a sample of the initial list, which contained 180,000 names of "potential noncitizens," to county elections supervisors, asking them to verify the status of those registered voters and remove confirmed noncitizens.

A coalition of voting-rights groups challenged the state's plan in June, alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The organizations claimed that their members were at risk of being removed from the voting rolls, and that they had to divert resources away from their regular activities to address the effects of the program. A labor union joined the plaintiffs, suing in the name of two of its members who are citizens, but who were wrongfully identified as potential noncitizens on the state's initial list.

The coalition claimed that the program proved to be inaccurate, because the initial list included at least some U.S. citizens who would have been wrongfully removed.

But Florida argued that it could accurately determine the citizenship status of registered voters, especially after gaining access to a Department of Homeland Security database in August.

After the state and the plaintiffs settled parts of the lawsuit last month, the coalition, in pursuing the remaining claim, argued that federal law prohibits systematic voter purging within 90 days of a federal election.

But the state countered that the law does not concern the removal of improperly registered noncitizens.

U.S. District Judge William Zloch agreed that the 90-day purge prohibition applies only to registrants who have changed their residence, and not to people who should not be on the rolls, such as minors or noncitizens.

"It is indeed notable these provisions are silent as to the removal of those registered voters who were never bona fide registrants, and whose registration was void ab initio by virtue of their status as minors, non-citizens, or any other factor that would nullify their registration," Zloch wrote.

The judge rejected claims that the state should adopt measures to deter noncitizens from registering to vote, or prosecute noncitizens who successfully vote, instead of purging improperly registered voters.

"These suggestions give the court little assurance," Zloch wrote. "Certainly, the NVRA does not require the state to idle on the sidelines until a non-citizen violates the law before the state can act. And surely the NVRA does not require the state to wait until after that critical juncture - when the vote has been cast and the harm has been fully realized - to address what it views as nothing short of 'voter fraud.'"

The coalition failed to prove that the program violates the 90-day provision, and the judge said "irreparable injury" is unlikely since the request for an injunction followed a three-month delay.

Zloch also found that the groups' interests in protecting their members' rights and their resources do not outweigh Florida's interest in maintaining the integrity of the electoral process.

"The court finds that the secretary has a compelling interest in ensuring that the voting rights of citizens are not diluted by the casting of votes by noncitizens," he wrote.

After denying the requested injunction, Zloch dismissed the complaint as it pertains to two organizations but no other plaintiff.

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