An affiliation of union, minority and civil rights groups asked a federal judge Monday to stop the state from going forward with its latest voter purge targeting noncitizens.
Attorneys for the groups as well as individual members told U.S. District Judge William Zloch that purging the voter rolls within 90 days of the election violates the National Voter Registration Act on 1993 and would cast a chill over the Nov. 6 presidential election.
Zloch repeatedly asked why he should act to protect noncitizen voters who had committed a felony by registering illegally in the first place.
Marc Goldman, a partner at Jenner & Block in Chicago who argued against the purge, said Congress knew that any trimming of voter rolls close to an election would disfranchise legitimate citizens and intentionally barred any late systematic purge.
“The people we are trying to protect are the eligible voters,” Goldman told Zloch.
But Michael Carvin, an attorney with Jones Day in Washington representing Secretary of State Ken Dentzer, noted a fellow federal judge in Tallahassee rejected similar arguments by the Justice Department, saying the 90-day rule didn’t apply to noncitizens.
Congress didn’t make it a felony for noncitizens to register and cast ballots only to prohibit the state from removing such voters from the voting rolls, Carvin said.
Zloch said he hoped to rule by the end of the week on whether to grant a preliminary injunction.
Goldman told Zloch that Florida has a history of flawed purges, including citizens on a list of 2,700 names issued by the state last spring and one targeting felons before the 2000 election.
About 207 registered voters have been identified by the state in a pared list of people it says are noncitizens. But Goldman said he has not seen the list. The state is checking a federal Department of Homeland Security database against dates of birth and Social Security numbers to identify noncitizens.
“Despite a history of inaccurate voter purges, the defendant has decided to conduct another purge using a method it has never tried before within 90 days of a federal election,” Goldman said.
The purge of such a small number of voters has consequences, the plaintiffs said.
Dale Ewart, a vice president with Service Employees International Union Local 1199, said resources had to be allocated to track down three members identified on the original list, and all were citizens.
Those resources could have gone to other election-related activities, such as getting out the vote, he said.
Ewart also said union workers in the field have found that naturalized citizens fear they will be challenged at the polls and even detained. He said others feel their vote will not be counted so they are approaching the election with apathy or cynicism.
“Activities like this help to send a chilling message to voters, especially immigrant citizens,” Ewart said.
Wilfredo Seza, president of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, said he is concerned some of his members could be disenfranchised since the island has made all birth certificates prior to 2009 invalid. He said it takes two to three months to get a new birth certificate, and it hasn’t even been unheard of that Puerto Ricans have been detained by immigration authorities even though they are U.S. citizens by birthright.
The voting rights group, the New Florida Majority, is also a petitioner. Voting rights groups have alleged the purge is an effort to suppress the Hispanic vote by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. Polls show the Hispanic vote nationwide swings heavily toward President Barack Obama by about 40 percent over his rival, GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
John De Leon, a South Miami attorney with Chavez & De Leon on the plaintiffs legal team, said Zloch’s decision goes to the heart of a democracy.
“We are talking about the ability of the people of Florida to vote unhampered,” he said.