Florida settles most of lawsuit on voting list

Published On: Sep 12 2012 02:35:02 PM EDT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

The Department of State will instruct elections supervisors to contact voters on a list of potential non-citizens and tell them they are eligible to cast ballots as part of a settlement reached Wednesday with groups who sued claiming the list purge was discriminatory because it mostly targeted Hispanics.

The state will ask elections supervisors to contact about 2,600 people that were on the list and tell them that they are eligible to vote unless it's been proven that they aren't citizens. Some eligible voters had been removed from rolls because they didn't respond to certified mail after the state originally distributed the list to supervisors.

Several groups that work with immigrants, Haitian-Americans and Puerto Ricans claimed, in part, that the effort to remove non-citizenswas discriminatory because most people on the list were Hispanic. The groups will drop most of their claims in their Miami-filed lawsuit.

"This settlement represents a historic milestone for voting rights in Florida," said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. "It will ensure that naturalized citizens, the majority of whom are Latino, black and Asian, have the same opportunities as all Americans to participate in our political process and exercise the most fundamental right in our democracy - the right to vote."

As part of the agreement, Secretary of State Ken Detzner will instruct elections supervisors to restore any voters who were removed if it can't be confirmed that they aren't citizens; send a letter to everyone who was previously told they may not be eligible to vote and inform them that they are still registered, unless it's confirmed that they aren't citizens; not to conclude that the presence of a name on the list determines voter ineligibility; and not to force anyone on the list to use a provisional ballot.

The list has become the subject of several lawsuits, including one by the U.S. Department of Justice. While it did identify about 100 non-citizens who were registered to vote, there were also hundreds of citizens on the list and opponents argued they were at risk of being improperly removed.

Gov. Rick Scott initiated a push last year to have Florida election officials look for non-U.S. citizens on the voter rolls. That resulted in the state comparing driver's license information with voter registration data to come up with more than 180,000 people suspected of being ineligible to vote.

Then in April, the state distributed to county election supervisors a smaller list of more than 2,600 names that state officials said had been reviewed further. The supervisors have final say over whether to remove a voter from the rolls.

Many county election officials, however, began raising questions about the accuracy of the list when more than 500 voters turned out to be citizens. Most supervisors halted any further work on the state list although two counties - Collier and Lee - did not suspend work on the list and removed voters from the rolls.

The state has since reached an agreement with the federal government to check the list against an immigration database.

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