Effort to remove names from voter rolls using inaccurate, outdated information was challenged as violation of Voting Rights Act, voided by decision in Shelby County v. Holder 

MIAMI – Today, as the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision striking a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), a federal court was compelled to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state of Florida’s attempted purge of voters in advance of the 2012 elections.

“This is a serious disappointment for all who care about the right to vote and fighting back against voter suppression in Florida,” stated ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon. “The Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act has taken away one of the primary tools we have used to challenge efforts to undermine democracy by suppressing minority votes.”

The Mi Familia Vota Education Fund v. Detzner lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), on behalf of Mi Familia Vota and two U.S. citizens, Murat Limage and Pamela Gomez, had challenged Florida’s efforts to make lawful citizens and already legally registered voters re-verify their citizenship or lose their ability to vote.  “We believe that the Scott Administration’s voter purge, which disproportionately targeted minority voters, was precisely the sort of voting manipulation that the Voting Rights Act was designed to prevent,” stated Julie Ebenstein, ACLU of Florida staff attorney.

The State of Florida violated federal law by subjecting citizens to this new voting requirement without getting the required federal preclearance, mandated by the VRA, to determine whether the purge effort disproportionately impacted minority voters in the five Florida counties covered by the Voting Rights Act.

However, in a June 25th 5-4 decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the United States Supreme Court struck down the portion of the VRA used to determine which jurisdictions, with a history of racial discrimination at the polling place, – including parts of Florida - are required to submit all changes in voting laws and procedures for federal preclearance. As a result, the federal law being used to challenge the purge that was initiated by Gov. Scott no longer covered parts of Florida and therefore, the challenge had to be dismissed.

“This is the first shock wave of the Supreme Court’s devastating decision crashing into Florida,” stated Simon. “We have already seen the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in places like Texas, Mississippi and North Carolina, which, like our state, had previously been required to prove that changes to voter laws weren’t discriminatory. You can believe that Florida’s Legislature is chomping at the bit for the next legislative session to see what other voter suppression tactics they can get away with now that the Voting Rights Act no longer keeps our Legislature in check.  We are in an age when voter suppression is becoming more sophisticated and more widespread, and until Congress re-enacts the formula that triggers the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement, we will need to use other weapons to protect that right to vote in Florida.”

Serious concerns about the accuracy and discriminatory targeting of Florida’s voter roll purge arose based on an analysis revealing that 61% of those on the purge list are Hispanic while only 14% of registered Florida voters are Hispanic. In a June 11th 2012 letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, DOJ criticized the State’s purge effort warning it has “critical imperfections which lead to errors that harm and confuse eligible voters.” The same letter went on to warn Florida to “immediately cease this unlawful conduct.”

“The dismissal of this case is another fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder,” said Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director and President of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “We will continue to monitor voting changes that are made in Florida, and across the country, to protect the rights of voters - but our job has become much more difficult. Floridians who hear of changes that may impact voting rights can call 866-OUR-VOTE to help protect the right to vote.”

A copy of the court order signed by the parties today is available here: http://aclufl.org/resources/court-order-on-aclu-challenge-to-florida-voter-purge-dismissed/


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