Technical arguments aside, Republicans say theres also a question of the intent of Motor Voter, which congressional Republicans balked at until they got language added in that concerned removing ineligible voters.
The law says states should clean up the voter rolls and thats what Floridas doing, said Joseph diGenova, a conservative former Reagan-era U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
The DOJs Civil Rights division is out of control. Florida should fight, he said. This is a brazen effort by the [DOJ] to intimidate the states into doing nothing.
But Penda Hair co-founder of the voter-advocacy group The Advancement Project, which called on DOJ to get involved disagrees. She said election officials may take steps to ensure the reliability of the voter rolls, but any systematic reviews should be done in years when there are no federal elections.
The states noncitizen purge is dangerous, she said, because it could have a disproportionate impact on Hispanic and Haitian voters. And the purge is happening too close to the election, she said, making it harder for people to verify their citizenship before Election Day.
"The state is flouting the federal law," Hair said. "This is a hugely overbroad purge."
Cate, the state elections spokesman, said the state continues to disagree with the DOJ, the Advancement Projects and other groups.
DOJ is making the same argument as the groups that have sent letters to us, Cate said. If we disagree with the interpretation it doesnt matter whos raising it we disagree with the interpretation.
Florida is one of a handful of states required to seek federal approval for any voting changes that could affect minority voting under the Voting Rights Act. But this requirement applies in only five Florida counties: Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier, Hendry and Hardee.
Because Florida had never before sought to identify ineligible noncitizen voters, these new procedures should have first been approved by the U.S. Attorney General or a panel of federal judges, said Katharine√ Butler, a law professor and voting-rights expert at the University of South Carolina.
However, if the noncitizen purge were not enforced in the five counties covered by the Voting Rights Act, the program may be able to go forward without federal scrutiny in the 62 other counties, Butler said.
Butler said the danger of widespread voting by noncitizens also seems remote. "It seems to be an unnecessary fight, a big waste of time on everybodys part," she said.
With the purge in abeyance, Miami-Dade County the most-populous in the state has so far identified 13 noncitizens on the rolls, two of whom have voted and been referred to the State Attorneys Office for investigation. Its a third-degree felony for a noncitizen to vote.
The county has determined that about 500 others are lawful citizens out of more than 1,600 names of potential noncitizens flagged by the state. About 1,100 more have not been identified either way and could be eligible to vote this year whether theyre citizens or not if the purge stops.
Weve been acting responsibly through this process, Cate said. And our letter will reiterate that while addressing the concerns raised by DOJ. We have continued our efforts to identify ineligible voters.
Whether DOJ and ultimately the courts will let the state continue is yet to be seen.
Miami Herald reporter Scott Hiaasen contributed to this story.
A previous version of this article listed an incorrect number of independently elected supervisors.