Alarmed by the state of Florida’s recent voter “purging” actions, the Department of Justice has stepped in and ordered the state to cut it out. The action from the Department takes place after hundreds of alleged “non-citizen” voters verified they were in fact citizens of the United States and eligible to vote. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, claims that non-citizen voters must be removed from the rolls to protect the integrity of November’s election.
The request to halt the voter purge came in the form of a letter dated May 31st from Christian Herren, head of the Voting Section of the the Department of Justice, to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner. The letter states that Florida’s process of unregistering “non citizen” voters must be in compliance with Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Several members of Congress were pleased with DoJ’s action.
“It was long overdue. I was glad tonight that the Attorney General and the Department put an end to it. It is clearly a violation of the spirit and the letter of the Voting Rights Act,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) as he spoke to Politic365 on DoJ’s action late Thursday.
The state of Florida has a history of impropriety at the ballot box. The most memorable example was during the 2000 presidential elections when some say Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, would have won the presidency were it not for GOP officials in Florida rigging the vote count for then-Texas Gov. George Bush, a Republican.
Florida is also a key swing state in the 2012 race for the White House. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), who represents Jacksonville, still very strongly maintains that votes were stolen in 2000 and is worried history could repeat itself.
“Keep in mind: they say Bush won by 508 votes in 2000 – but they stole 27,000 votes from my district. I’m not talking about this, that or the other — I’m talking about what I know,” Brown said. The Congresswoman is encouraging constituents to be at the polls in person and watch the way their vote is recorded carefully rather than mail in ballots to protect their vote.
In a letter sent earlier this week to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Reps. Brown, Alcee Hastings, Frederica Wilson, Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz demanded the governor cease unregistering voters. “If the goal is truly to remove ineligible individuals who were intentionally or somehow mistakenly registered to vote … that process must move forward in a nonpartisan manner with transparency,” the letter read.
Interestingly enough, the Congressional Black Caucus’ lone Republican member, Rep. Allen West of Florida, has been quiet on the subject of the voter purge. Yet, West recently told ThinkProgress.org during an interview that he was adamantly opposed to early voting and absentee ballots, calling the practice unconstitutional. ”I think that this early voting thing was something we provided and now some people see it as an entitlement, which is really not consistent with constitutional voting practices and procedures,” said West.
A disproportionate number of those being unregistered in the Florida vote purge were minorities. MSNBC reported more than half of those being unregistered were Hispanic.
One particular story of an American citizen who was unregistered in the purge was reported by the Miami Herald. World War II vet Bill Internicola, 91, who was awarded a Bronze Star during the war, was contacted by the Broward Supervisor of Elections by mail saying he was not a United States citizen. Internicola contacted the office asking them if they were crazy and then contacted the press. The letter to Internicola removing him from the voting rolls was in error. Internicola is an American citizen.
A day before the Department of Justice’s Voting Section Chief contacted Florida by letter to halt the vote purge, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared at a summit in Washington D.C. hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches and spoke on the importance protecting voting rights.
Many have felt the Department of Justice has been too slow to act on the issue. Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said this week that until recently Justice had not been paying attention to the issue. “The Justice Department has frankly been asleep,” Brown said during a TV interview. “I maintain that we ought to use every element of the law that we can in order to make sure that no one becomes comfortable trying to discourage people from voting.” Though there is criticism many are starting to feel the Department is awake and are pleased with their involvement.
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She is heard every Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WPFW every Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Washington DC. You can e-mail her at LBurke007@gmail.com follow her on twitter at @crewof42.