Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to Republican activists in Jacksonville,… (AP Photo / Brendan Farrington )
WASHINGTON -- Refusing to back away from its controversial plan to purge voter rolls before the presidential election, the Florida Department of State on Monday filed a lawsuit against theU.S. Department of Homeland Securityfor failing to assist the state in its efforts to identify noncitizens who are registered to vote.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the department “has failed to meet its legal obligation” to provide access to the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program, a database known as SAVE, which contains citizenship information.
“We can’t let the federal government delay our efforts to uphold the integrity of Florida elections any longer,” Detzner said. “We’ve filed a lawsuit to ensure the law is carried out and we are able to meet our obligation to keep the voter rolls accurate and current.”
The effort to drop the names of ineligible voters from the rolls began when Republican Gov. Rick Scott called on the state to identify non-U.S. citizens illegally registered to vote.
The state had asked Homeland Security for access to the SAVE database, but the department has not cooperated, so the rolls instead have been compared against the state’s driver’s license database. Homeland Security argues that the SAVE database is not designed to be compared against voter registration rolls and that it does not contain information about citizens born in the United States.
Voting rights advocates say the purge could disenfranchise eligible voters. And they say the driver’s license database is unreliable because its citizenship information is often out of date.
The effort has sparked a volley of letters between Detzner and the Justice Department.
The Justice Department earlier this month warned that the purge “appears to violate” the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law that prohibits state elections officials from dropping people from registration rolls 90 days prior to an election. Florida has a federal primary scheduled for Aug. 14.
Detzner defended the purge as an effort to “identify and remove noncitizens from [Florida’s] voter rolls [to] ensure that the right to vote of citizens is protected and is not diluted by the votes of ineligible persons.”
Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas E. Perez responded Monday with a letter that said he had “authorized the initiation of an enforcement action against Florida in federal court.”
Detzner’s office argues that federal law requires Homeland Security to respond to states that seek to verify the citizenship status of people living within their jurisdictions. And it says the department has previously stated that the database can be used for voter registration purposes.
Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said the department “does not comment on pending litigation.”