ST. PETERSBURG — In the debate over rights, eligibility and access to the ballot box in Florida, all sides seem to be claiming victory this week.
The Florida Department of State decided Thursday to stop purging the voter rolls of ineligible voters to avoid the “time, expense, and uncertainty of litigation,” according to a mutual stipulation signed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Miami.
Even though Secretary of State Ken Detzner agreed to halt more probes based upon citizenship ahead of November’s general election, the agreement does state that voters who have been confirmed ineligible should be removed.
“Any individual … should be restored to the voter rolls unless he or she was removed by a Supervisor of Elections on a basis unrelated to citizenship status, such as deceased, adjudicated mentally incompetent, or request by voter,” states the agreement.
“Any individual who has been removed from the voter rolls may appeal the removal in accordance with Florida law.”
This agreement effectively ended the contentious debate over the state’s voter rolls, which previous examinations revealed were riddled with close to 200,000 noncitizens, deceased or otherwise ineligible voters.
The challenge to the state’s efforts was first filed by a coalition of advocacy groups, including the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization in Los Angeles; Project Vote, a similar group based in Washington, D.C.; and the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest trade unions in the country.
“American citizens won’t be purged, and naturalized citizens won’t be purged. For us, it’s a great victory,” said Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, director at the Advancement Project.
Detzner, however, refused to classify the agreement as a loss for the state.
“The voter eligibility initiative is already proving to be a successful process to identify illegally registered voters on Florida’s voter rolls,” he said in a statement.
“We want every Florida voter to be confident that their vote is protected and not hurt in any way by the illegal activity of others.”
Securing the early vote
On another front, the U.S. Department of Justice has given the green light to Florida’s controversial changes to early voting, enacted earlier this year by the Republican-led Legislature.
Lawyers for the federal government made the approval known in an official notice to the court, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
The central argument of the original lawsuit, initially filed by the U.S. Justice Department, was over whether changes to early voting would disproportionately affect minority voters, who took special advantage of early voting in the 2008 election, ordered by Gov. Charlie Crist, then a Republican.
According to the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, all changes to voting regulations for certain counties must first be approved by the federal government, because of a history of voter discrimination.
These are Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties.
“Under this schedule, the five covered counties will offer the maximum 96 hours of early voting over an eight-day period, with hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” states the notice.
The law passed by the Legislature reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, but extended the amount of voting time to 12 hours per day, allowing precisely the same amount of time for voters to cast ballots as in previous elections.
An analysis of early voting in this year’s primary elections, conducted by the Tampa Bay Times, revealed that more voters cast early ballots, despite the reduced number of days.
“The approval of these changes is a tremendous victory for Florida voters,” said Detzner in a statement.
“In the areas of the state already able to implement the changes, we have seen how the changes offer more flexibility to vote, more accountability and faster reporting times on Election Day.”
Yaël Ossowski is Florida Bureau Chief for Watchdog.org. Contact him at Yael@FloridaWatchdog.org.
— Yaël (@YaelOss) September 10, 2012