Federal court rules that Florida’s 2012 voter purge was illegal

A federal appeals court ruled this Tuesday that Florida’s 2012 efforts to remove non-citizens from its voter rolls was in violation of the National Voter Registration Act.

From Talking Points Memo:

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the state’s efforts to remove non-citizens from the rolls violated the act’s so-called “90 Days Provision,” which requires states to “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.”

A district court had previously entered a judgement in favor of Florida Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner, who has argued that the National Voter Registration Act either allows non-citizens to be removed from voter rolls at any time or not at all.

Under Detzner’s watch, Florida undertook two separate efforts to identify and remove non-citizens from the state’s voter rolls before the primary and general elections in 2012. Those efforts prompted lawsuits from individuals and organizations, as well as from the U.S. Justice Department. Among the plaintiffs in the case decided Tuesday were two people, Karla Arcia and Melande Antoine, who were identified as non-citizens who should be removed from the voter rolls but who were, in fact, U.S. citizens eligible to vote in 2012.

In its opinion, the court emphasized the “balance” struck by the 90 Day Provision.

“Eligible voters removed days or weeks before Election Day will likely not be able to correct the State’s errors in time to vote,” U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin wrote. “This is why the 90 Day Provision strikes a careful balance: It permits systematic removal programs at any time except for the 90 days before an election because that is when the risk of disfranchising eligible voters is the greatest.”

The decision comes just days after Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) administration announced that it would abandon its efforts to purge the voter rolls would be postponed until 2015. According to Reuters, Detzner wrote a memo to county election supervisors saying that the state plans to wait until a new federal database is set up to held track ineligible voters.

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