The Justice Department has informed Florida that its attempts to remove non-US citizens from voter rolls may violate the 1993 National Voter Registration Act and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Authorities in Florida allege that there may be thousands of non-citizens on voter rolls and has taken steps to verify the citizenship of possibly suspect voters. Florida allegedly claimed that there could be as many as 180 000 possible non-voters on state voter rolls, but eventually whittled down that number to over 2000.
The voters may be significant, especially when one considers that parts of Florida are strongly democratic and George W. Bush’s election was decided by only 537 votes in Florida. Some are now alleging that Florida’s current attempts at citizenship verification are an effort to suppress the vote. Already, there have been news stories of elderly veterans who are citizens being asked to verify their citizenship and questions have been raised about where Florida gets its information about who is and is not a citizen.
The snafu has some asking whether the US should have a national registry of qualified US citizens who can vote. That way, election officials would have a verifiable source to check voter rolls against. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli noted that unless a citizen is in the passport database, there is no way to check in the DHS database to see whether someone is a citizen or not. This has some claiming that attempts to get rid of non-citizens on voter rolls is not possible because there is no verifiable, accurate national data about citizen status. As a result, some experts are worried that current efforts in Florida and elsewhere will disenfranchise eligible voters. There is also concern that if an eligible voter is accused of not being a citizen that there are not processes in place to ensure that the voter’s right to vote is protected in time for the November election. Some experts would like to see a federal agency created to ensure that only citizens are allowed to vote and to protect the right to vote.
In Florida, data from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is being used to determine who on the voter rolls is and is not a citizen. However, as many have pointed out, the citizenship information secured by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is often very much outdated and is not an accurate indicator of who is and is not a US citizen. According to the Justice Department, Florida needs clearance from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division before implementing a citizenship check process for voters. The state could also get clearance from a federal judge for such a program. According to the Justice Department, Florida is also not permitted to remove names from lists of voters this close to an election.