“Legally Challenged”: Judge Allows Florida Voter Purge To Move Forward Despite Federal Law Forbidding It
Federal Judge Robert Hinkle rejected the Justice Department’s request for a temporary order suspending Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) effort to purge tens of thousands of names from his state’s voter roles. According to the AP, Judge Hinkle relied on highly questionable reasoningin order to do so:
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit earlier this month to halt the purge, saying it was going on too close to a federal election. U.S. officials also said the list used by Florida had “critical imperfections, which lead to errors that harm and confuse voters.”
Hinkle in ruling from the bench said federal laws are designed to block states from removing eligible voters close to an election. He said they are not designed to block voters who should have never been allowed to cast ballots in the first place.
If this AP report is accurate, then Judge Hinkle is simply wrong. Here is the text of the federal law at issue in this case:
A State shall complete, not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary or general election for Federal office, any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.
Although the law does include exceptions for voters who ask to be removed, felons, the mentally incapacitated and dead voters, none of those exceptions apply to this case. The law says that no state may engage in a Florida-style voter purge seeking to remove ineligible voters within 90 days of an election. Period.
Judge Hinkle’s apparent decision is not simply wrong as a matter of statutory text, it also defies common sense. No state should ever purge eligible voters from its voter rolls for reasons that should be obvious. The purpose of the federal law preventing purges of ineligible voters within 90 days of an election is to avoid a situation where a state wrongly flags an eligible voter as someone who cannot lawfully vote without providing that voter enough time to demonstrate that the state made a mistake. Hinkle’s apparently misreads this law to suggest that Florida is perfectly free to kick legal voters off its voter rolls so long as it does so more than three months before an election.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, June 27, 2012
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice blocked a new Texas state law that would institute strict photo identification requirements for all citizens trying to vote. The DOJ refused to grant the law pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act, noting that the bill would unfairly disenfranchise Hispanic voters.
Supporters of the bill say the law is needed to prevent voter impersonation. Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) argued:
Texas has a responsibility to ensure elections are fair, beyond reproach and accurately reflect the will of voters. The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane. Their denial is yet another example of the Obama administration’s continuing and pervasive federal overreach.
How big has the problem been? According to the San Antonio Express-News:
Fewer than five “illegal voting” complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office from the 2008 and 2010 general elections in which more than 13 million voters participated.
The Texas attorney general’s office did not give the outcome of the four illegal voting complaints that were filed. Only one remains pending, according to agency records.
And as ThinkProgress Justice previously reported, more people than that have been denied their right to vote due to these sorts of strict voter ID laws.
Though Perry has claimed Texas has endured “multiple cases” of voter fraud, even of the paltry 20 election law violation allegations the state’s attorney general handled in the 2008 and 2010 elections, most related to mail-in ballot or campaign finance violations, electioneering too close to a polling place, and a voter blocked by an election worker.
It is unclear how many Texans attempt to illegally check out library books while impersonating neighbors or dead people, each year. But in a state of more than 25 million people, the odds of being even accused of voter impersonation in the Lone Star State are less than one in 6,250,000.
By: Josh Israel, Think Progress, March 26, 2012