Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s badly flawed purge of the voter rolls before the 2012 election was illegal, a federal court ruled Tuesday.
In a 2-1 decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the purge violated the National Voter Registration Act, which bars the systematic removal of voters from the rolls within 90 days of an election.
Florida conducted two separate efforts to remove non-citizens from the rolls before the last presidential election, drawing lawsuits from the U.S. Justice Department and voting-rights groups. Because the state used a flawed system that relied on often out-of-date motor vehicle records, numerous eligible voters were wrongly flagged—including a 91-year old World War II vet. They received letters telling them that if they didn’t prove their citizenship within 30 days, they’d be taken off the rolls.
The Miami Herald found that "Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted,” while whites and Republicans were the least likely.
In its ruling Tuesday, the court stressed that removing voters within 90 days of an election doesn’t give people enough time to fix any errors.
"Eligible voters removed days or weeks before Election Day will likely not be able to correct the State’s errors in time to vote," Judge Beverly Martin wrote. "This is why the 90 Day Provision strikes a careful balance: It permits systematic removal programs at any time except for the 90 days before an election because that is when the risk of disfranchising eligible voters is the greatest."
"Election integrity means making sure that legitimate voters aren't wrongfully removed from the rolls,” Michael Slater, the executive director of Project Vote, one of the groups that sued Florida, said in a statement. “This decision vindicates the important role the National Voter Registration Act provides in protecting eligible voters from these kinds of last-minute purges."
Scott, a Republican who is in a tight re-election fight, didn’t stop trying to purge voters after 2012. He kicked off a new effort earlier this year. In a memo to local elections supervisors sent last week, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the state will hold off on the renewed purge until a new federal database is functioning.