Federal Court Votes 2-1 to Knock Out Florida Voter Purge Law

Friday, April 04, 2014
Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Republicans in Florida will no longer purge voter rolls just months before an election, following a decision by a federal appeals court.


A three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta threw out the Florida Department of State’s effort to identify and bar noncitizens within 90 days of casting ballots.


The administration of Republican Governor Rick Scott launched the controversial program in 2012, just ahead of the presidential contest.


The state began with a list of 180,000 suspect voters, based on driver's license information. It trimmed the list down to 2,600, then to 198, before going ahead and removing 85 voters from the rolls.


That action violated federal law, which prohibits states from “systematic” removals of voters less than 90 days before a federal primary or general election, the appellate justices ruled (pdf) 2-1.


“This is a big win for Florida voters and a significant victory for good election administration practices,” Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, which joined the case on the plaintiffs’ side, said in a prepared statement. “Systematic computer purges are often wrong so they shouldn't come just before an election, when the voter can't get it corrected. … This is a precedent-setting case that upholds a key protection for voters.”


The plaintiffs in the case—Karla Vanessa Arcia, a naturalized citizen from Nicaragua, and Melande Antoine, a naturalized citizen from Haiti—are both residents of Miami-Dade who had been wrongly identified in the state purge as non-citizens.


Secretary of State Ken Detzner would not say following the ruling whether the state would ask for a rehearing of the case before the full circuit court. “We are reviewing the decision,” he said in a statement.


Detzner intended to do another purging before this November’s election. But his office decided last week not to go through with it, after many of the state’s elected supervisors of elections voiced their opposition.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's 2012 Voter Purge Violated Federal Law, Court Rules (by Steve Bousquet, Tampa Bay Times)

Karla Vanessa Arcia v. Florida Secretary of State (Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals) (pdf)

Limiting Voters in Florida…Long Lines and Signatures of Stroke Victims (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Former Republican Officials Admit to Voter Suppression Efforts and “Marketing Ploy” to Damage Democrats (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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