Gov. Rick Scott and the Obama administration traded legal barbs and counteraccusations Monday as each side announced it would sue the other over Florida’s controversial noncitizen voter purge.
Scott’s chief elections official sued first, filing a federal lawsuit in Washington that accused the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of unlawfully refusing Florida access to a federal database that could help the state spot and remove noncitizens from the voter rolls.
“We can’t let the federal government delay our efforts to uphold the integrity of Florida elections any longer,” Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said. “We’ve filed a lawsuit to ensure the law is carried out and we are able to meet our obligation to keep the voter rolls accurate and current.”
The state says it has found 87 noncitizens on the voter rolls so far, at least 47 of whom may have unlawfully cast ballots. More than 500 others have been identified as actual citizens and lawful voters.
Moments after the state filed suit, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez roared back in a sharply worded five-page letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, which ordered the state two weeks ago to stop the purge because it could violate two federal voting laws.
The state’s program is too “faulty” ” and comes too close to election time to not endanger the voting rights of thousands of lawful U.S. citizens, Perez wrote. He said Florida has repeatedly ignored Homeland Security’s warning that the department’s database, known as SAVE, isn’t designed for the noncitizen hunt on which Florida embarked.
“The significant problems you are encountering in administering this new program are of your own creation,” Perez wrote.
“Your claim that the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security have worked in concert to deny Florida access to the SAVE Program is simply wrong,” Perez added. “Please immediately cease this unlawful conduct.”
Perez wrote his letter in response to a letter written last week by Detzner. Detzner, in turn, was responding to a DOJ demand that Florida cease the purge. Perez said that because of Florida’s “unwillingness” to comply with the law, “I have authorized the initiation of an enforcement action against Florida in federal court.”
Meantime, the American Civil Liberties Union has also sued the state to stop the effort, which is largely on hold in nearly every county because elections supervisors say they’re concerned with the quality of the 2,700-person list of potential noncitizens generated by the state.
That’s a fraction of a list of 180,000 potential noncitizens the state initially identified. That larger list has not been released by the state.
The fight between the state and federal government is but one battle in the war over voting rights and voting integrity in the nation’s most important swing state, where the scars of voting irregularities were magnified in the 2000 elections.
Liberals accuse Scott of “voter suppression;” conservatives say the Obama administration is allowing “voter fraud.”
So far, there’s less evidence of suppression and more evidence of fraud.
The number of noncitizens who are on the rolls or appear to have cast unlawful ballots grows by the day. And there’s no evidence yet that any lawful voter has been kicked off the rolls. Still, it’s tough to prove if someone actually cast an illegal ballot.