The U.S. Department of Justice is demanding that Hillsborough turn over voter-purge records, pulling the county into a growing legal fracas over Gov. Rick Scott's push to clean out the state's voter registry.
The county received a subpoena Wednesday for documents dating to Jan. 1 relating to any efforts at identifying voters as potential noncitizens.
The subpoena stems from a lawsuit filed June 12 in Tallahassee by the federal government against Florida and Secretary of State Ken Detzner over state efforts to scrub voter rolls.
Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Earl Lennard said he would comply with the subpoena. Like supervisors across the state, Lennard halted efforts to purge voters when the tools to cross-reference citizenship and voter registration — a Department of Homeland Security database and motor vehicle records — proved unreliable, he said.
The subpoena landed on the same day the American Civil Liberties Union claimed that more than 17,000 former felons whose civil rights have been restored never received their notices of rights restoration. More than 13,000 of them aren't registered and may not know they're eligible to vote, the ACLU said.
The subpoena for Hillsborough came just days after the Justice Department joined a lawsuit filed in Tampa by the ACLU and others seeking to halt the voter purge on behalf of two Hispanic voters and a Hispanic voter education group.
In that suit, as in the Tallahassee action, the federal government's "statement of interest" maintains that Scott's purge violates the Voting Rights Act.
The act requires that five Florida counties who have histories of voter discrimination — Hillsborough, Collier, Hendry, Hardee and Monroe — must obtain "pre-clearance" for any changes in voting procedure.
Scott launched the drive to look for noncitizens on voting rolls last year. He has defended the action. "It's the right thing to do to check and make sure" voters are legally registered, Scott said during a Tampa stop in June.
But the governor has been criticized by the ACLU, voter rights groups and Democrats who say the move — and the treatment of former felons — targets minorities who may not support the GOP in a divisive election year.
The Florida Parole Commission confirmed the ACLU's figures on undelivered restoration of rights notices, saying most were from the period when Florida had automatic restoration of voting rights for lower-level offenders. That meant they could register to vote again without going through an application process.
The commission sent the notices to the offenders' last-known addresses filed with the Department of Corrections. The list is on the commission's website, fpc.state.fl.us.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist enacted automatic restoration in 2007, but Scott and the Florida Cabinet ended it in March 2011.
Gov. Scott "has done nearly everything in his power to make voting more difficult, from blocking countless citizens from voting to neglecting the rights of those who can," said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.
Scott spokesman Brian Burgess called Simon's claim "outrageous," saying "most of these notifications were returned during the previous administration and maybe during the first three months of the Scott administration," before automatic restoration ended.