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Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
National Politics

Federal court dismisses voter purge lawsuit


Published:

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's efforts to screen and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls will soon be revived.

A federal court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit that a Hispanic civic organization and two naturalized citizens filed last year to block the contentious voter purge.

The lawsuit became moot because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June. That decision halted enforcement of a federal law that required all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval before changing the way they hold elections.

The groups fighting the state had argued that Florida's efforts to remove suspected non-U.S. citizens needed to be cleared by federal authorities first because five counties in the state had been subject to the federal law.

Also Wednesday, the U.S. District Court in Tampa lifted a five-month old stay that had prevented Florida from sending any new names of potential non-U.S. citizens to county election officials while the lawsuit was pending.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in court filings the state plans to resume removal of voters.

Detzner wrote in an email response to the Associated Press that a timeline of when that effort will resume has not yet been determined.

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the dismissal of the lawsuit was "inevitable" after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

"We have to now find and polish off other weapons to defend the right to vote in Florida," Simon said.

The lawsuit filed in Tampa was one of several skirmishes in the run-up to last year's presidential election over the state's effort to find and remove non-U.S. citizens on the rolls.

Among those who filed the lawsuit was Murat Limage, a Haitian American who became a naturalized citizen in October 2010 and registered to vote afterward. Limage said he received a letter in the spring of 2012 asking him to prove his citizenship.

It was Republican Gov. Rick Scott who first pushed to have the state look for non-U.S. citizens on the rolls. The state initially compared a list of driver's licenses with voter registration data and came up with a potential list of 180,000 voters suspected of not being citizens.

That list was pared back to a much smaller one - of more than 2,600 registered voters - that was sent to county election officials last year. Many election supervisors, however, did not wind up removing anyone after questions about the law and the accuracy of the list arose.

Florida then reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to screen names on a federal immigration database. That yielded a list of nearly 200 names. Some of those on that list included voters who admitted that they are not citizens.

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