Florida Gov. Rick Scott scored a political victory Saturday in a year-long dispute with the Obama administration over Florida’s right to purge illegal and ineligible voters.
Last year, the federal government, through Obama's attorney general, denied Florida elections officials access to a Department of Homeland Security database containing voter information. Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder’s office argued the state failed to provide necessary "unique identifiers" such as alien registration numbers or certification numbers on immigration documents, according to a World News report.
However Chris Cate, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, claims the state had the data all the time, yet the feds still refused to grant access.
However the Obama administration ordered the state to stop purging illegal voters despite withholding the federal data base. "It appears that the State of Florida is unwilling to conform its behavior to the requirements of federal law," wrote Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, adding that he had authorized "the initiation of an enforcement action against Florida in federal court," earlier in the dispute between Florida and the U.S. Justice Department.
But Saturday, after repeatedly refusing to allow access to the federal voter database, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agreed to open its database to the Department of State, which oversees Florida's voter registration system. The state will now be able to proceed in cross-checking the names of Florida voters against a federal citizenship database known as SAVE, or Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.
No explanation was given by Homeland Security officials or by Holder’s office as to why DHS officials changed course Saturday. However the reversal comes after a federal judge in Florida refused to halt purge efforts.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott says the purge is necessary to guarantee fair elections while some high profile Democrats and voter advocacy groups have criticized Scott for the action, saying it is aimed at Democratic-leaning voters in an election year. President Obama spoke out against the purge of illegal Florida voters.
Now that the federal government has released the data base, Florida will resume the task of purging non-citizens from the list of 11.2 million registered voters to prevent voter fraud.
"We are appreciative that the federal government is working with us," said Cate. "We believe this is a very big step in the right direction, and we hope our success paves the way for other states."
For his part, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner framed the DHS compromise as a necessary to maintaining electoral integrity.
This access is a significant step towards ensuring ineligible voters cannot cast a ballot and dilute the ballot of eligible voters," Detzner wrote. "The next step in our new partnership with DHS is signing a Memorandum of Agreement, which is expected to be finalized very soon. Once the agreement is signed, our staff will be trained on how to access the SAVE database and, shortly afterward, begin verifying the legal status of potential non-citizens identified on the voter rolls, said Detzner.
The action by the Department of Homeland Security comes on the heels of a recent decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee, who rejected a request by the U.S. Department of Justice to halt purge efforts on the basis of a 90-day "quiet period" in federal law before a federal election under the National Voter Registration Act. In Hinkle's courtroom, attorneys for the state signaled their plans to resume the purge if it gained access to the SAVE database.