TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida is again being sued over its contentious push to remove potentially ineligible voters from the rolls.
Several groups that work with immigrants, Haitian-Americans and Puerto Ricans are filing a lawsuit Tuesday in a Miami federal court. It now marks the fourth lawsuit surrounding the effort started last year by Gov. Rick Scott to try to identify non-U.S. citizens who are registered voters.
This latest lawsuit contends that the push to remove voters violates federal law because it is within 90 days of an election. But those behind the lawsuit also contend the effort is discriminatory because Hispanics represent a majority of those whose names were on the list drawn up by state election officials. Two of those involved in the lawsuit are registered voters who were on the list even though they are naturalized citizens.
“This last-minute action is a partisan effort to suppress the vote,'' said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project, whose group is helping with the lawsuit. “We can't allow partisans to decide that they are going to burden the right to vote for their own gain. American citizens who want to vote should not have to face this kind of extra burden and barrier to voting.''
Browne-Dianis also called the Florida lawsuit “a warning to other states'' contemplating a similar push to remove voters.
A spokesman for Florida's top election official sharply disputed the allegation that the state's actions are discriminatory.
“It is ridiculous to suggest that our process to identify and remove voters is in any way discriminatory,'' said Chris Cate. “The only criteria we are concerned about is whether or not someone is in fact ineligible and if so they should not be allowed to cast a ballot.''
Scott in numerous radio and television interviews has also disputed that his effort is fueled by a partisan desire to help Republicans in this year's election. Florida is viewed as a crucial swing state that could help determine whether or not President Barack Obama wins re-election. Obama won the state in 2008 but a recent poll gave Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney a slight lead in Florida.
Last year, Florida compared driver's license records with voter registration records and turned up as many as 182,000 registered voters who may not be U.S. citizens. But state officials did not release that list and instead sought access to a federal immigration database to verify the matches.
That request so far has been turned down by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Florida last week sued the agency to get access to the database.
Earlier this year, state officials sent to local election officials a much smaller list of more than 2,600 voters and asked them to check the names. Since April, local supervisors have removed more than 100 voters from the rolls for being non-U.S. citizens. But more than 500 voters have also proven that they are U.S. citizens.
Scott has said the presence of non-U.S. citizens on the rolls _ which included some who actually voted in past elections _ has justified the push to identify and remove them.
But most counties _ citing the clashing legal opinions and the accuracy of the list _ have suspended all work on the purge. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed its own lawsuit to stop the state, as has a coalition of groups including the American Civil Liberties Union.
The latest lawsuit is being filed by Advancement Project, Fair Elections Network, Latino Justice and Project Vote on behalf of the Haitian-American grass roots group Veyeyo, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, and an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.