In 2000 it was a state that brought national scorn upon its politics amid the debris of dimpled chads and allegations of erroneous vote-counting that ultimately required a Supreme Court decision to decide the victor. This week Florida again found itself under the scrutiny of the Department of Justice for seeking to strike off potentially thousands of individuals from its list of eligible voters.
The DoJ's criticism came in the wake of a plan by Republican Governor Rick Scott, which could see up to 182,000 individuals being ejected from the state voter list on the grounds that they are non-citizens.
While few dispute the rights of any state to ensure that voter registration is in compliance with state and federal laws, critics have warned that Governor Scott's controversial plan may disproportionately target Hispanic voters and other minorities, who predominantly tend to support Democrats.
According to reports Mr. Scott's administration has already made plans to push out 2,700 people who are potentially ineligible, and approximately 58 per cent of those are Hispanics, according to a Miami Herald analysis of elections records.
T. Christian Herren, a top lawyer in the DoJ's Voting Rights Division, was said to have written a two-page letter to Florida officials “asking why they chose to make this move without consulting [federal authorities], an apparent violation of the Voting Rights Act.”
Already evidence seemed to be emerging of mistaken targeting of legitimate voters, for example in Miami-Dade County, where officials were reportedly sent 1,500 letters to voters saying they were potentially non-citizens, and “nearly one-third of them provided proof that they were indeed Americans”.
The specific charge of the DoJ in this context is that Florida is attempting to bypass the requirement that any state wishing to pass changes to its voting laws under the 1965 Voting Rights Act needs to obtain its or judicial approval beforehand. This is a measure introduced “to end practices that prevented African Americans from exercising their democratic right in many southern states,” according to reports.
Yet the administration in Florida does not appear to be backing down. “We have an obligation to make sure the voter rolls are accurate and we are going to continue forward and do everything that we can legally do to make sure than ineligible voters cannot vote,” said Chris Cate, a state government Spokesman, adding, “We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot.”
Keywords: Florida vote-counting