Florida Counties Voter Rolls

(CNN) -- Florida's two largest counties have stopped removing names from their voter rolls after the U.S. Department of Justice called into question the legality of the action, representatives from local election offices said Monday.

Evelyn Perez-Verdia, spokeswoman for the supervisor of elections in Broward County, and Carolina Lopez, spokeswoman for the supervisor of elections in Miami Dade County, both said their jurisdictions would stop the removal of names.

The so-called "voter purge" would remove names from Florida's voter rolls months before the 2012 presidential election, when Florida will play a key role as a battleground state with a large chunk of electoral votes.

In a statement Friday, Chris Cate, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Elections, said the decision to remove names from the list was essential to preventing non-citizens from casting ballots illegally.

"The Department of State has a duty under both state and federal laws to ensure that Florida's voter registration rolls are current and accurate. Therefore, identifying ineligible voters is something we are always doing," Cate wrote.

He added that the action was not meant to prevent minority voters from voting.

"The political party and race of the potential non-citizens is not a factor at all in our process," Cate wrote. "We are only concerned about identifying ineligible voters and making sure they can't cast a ballot."

Florida's move to remove non-eligible voters from its voter lists began after the state's Republican Gov. Rick Scott pressed the state to identify non-U.S. citizens who had registered to vote illegally. Using information from the state's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the state identified more than 100,000 names of non-eligible voters that could potentially be on the lists illegally.

Critics say the plan unfairly targets minorities, and paint it as an attempt to dissuade typically Democratic voters from going to the polls.

The Department of Justice said in a letter Thursday that Florida failed to properly notify the federal government of their decision, writing the unilateral move violated provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"Our records do not reflect that these changes affecting voting have been submitted to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for judicial review or to the Attorney General for administrative review as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act," T. Christian Herren, head of the voting section of the civil rights division, wrote.

Five counties in Florida are covered by the Voting Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation that gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and localities with a history of voter discrimination. Any changes in voting laws and procedures in the covered states must be "pre-cleared" with Washington.

Broward and Miami Dade counties are not among the five counties in Florida covered by the Voting Rights Act.

In his letter, Herren also said the move appeared to violate a provision that prevents states from removing voters from rolls less than 90 days ahead of an election. Florida will hold a primary vote on August 14.

Cate said his department had not yet thoroughly reviewed the Department of Justice letter, but that they were "firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot."

"We provided information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security yesterday, and have been doing so for nearly nine months, in hopes that the federal government would help us identify ineligible voters. While this isn't a response from DHS as to why they haven't provided us access to their data, at least we know the federal government knows we take ineligible voters on the voter rolls seriously. We hope the federal government will recognize the importance of accurate voter rolls and support our efforts," Cate wrote.


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