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June 29, 2012

Judge stops effort to halt voter purge

Florida State Attorney Michael Carvin has so far been denied requests for access to Department of Homeland Security database to better determine voters' citizenship status. (UPI/Mike Theiler)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (UPI) -- A federal judge rejected the federal government's effort to block Florida's voter purge of non-U.S. citizens in part because the purge has been suspended.

In ruling that federal laws prohibiting the systematic removal of voters close to an election does not refer to non-citizens, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle Wednesday also said he accepted the state's claim that its purging efforts have ended for now, The Miami Herald reported.

The ruling was part of a request by the U.S. Department of Justice, which sought a restraining order to stop the voter roll purge. The department argued that the purge violates the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which forbids systematic removals of voters less than 90 days before a federal election. Florida's primary is Aug. 14.

Hinkle said he interpreted the law to address the removal of citizens who were lawfully registered to vote before the purge. He said the law was silent on non-citizens.

The state argued it has a duty to ensure non-citizens don't vote and dilute the legal votes of citizens, the Herald said. The purge ignited controversy in part because it was so close to a presidential election and more than half of suspected non-citizens are Hispanics -- something Hinkle discussed.

"That's discriminatory, at least in effect," Hinkle said. "I don't suggest that that was the purpose of this."

Justice Department attorney John Bert Russ said the purge unfairly forced U.S. citizens to prove their legitimacy, but couldn't cite an instance when a legitimate voter was removed from the rolls.

State Attorney Michael Carvin said the Florida is taking legal action to gain access to a Department of Homeland Security database to better determine voters' citizenship status. So far, the department has refused the state's request, saying state officials haven't provided the necessary information.

"If we get the [federal] data, I do expect the state to proceed and protect the integrity of the voter rolls," Carvin said.

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