Collier, Lee elections supervisors told to hand over voter registration documents

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Jennifer Edwards, Collier Supervisor of Elections, on NewsMakers 7-29-12.

Jennifer Edwards, Collier Supervisor of Elections, on NewsMakers 7-29-12.

— The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday gave Southwest Florida election officials two weeks to turn over all documents related to a statewide voter purge.

The move comes just days after the Justice Department filed papers in a Tampa federal court asserting the purge is in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards said she was served Tuesday with a subpoena that requires her office to turn over documents and information relating to a purge of noncitizens from the voter rolls.

"I wasn't expecting it," she said. "But I'm not surprised."

Sharon Harrington, Lee County's supervisor of elections, received a similar request.

"I never expected it," Harrington said.

But Florida Department of State spokesman Chris Cate said officials were aware the request was coming.

"The DOJ notified us late (Monday) that they would be requesting documents from several Supervisors of Elections regarding their efforts to remove ineligible voters from the voter rolls," Cate said in an email to the Daily News. "The Secretary of State's office has not been served with any subpoena or request for documents."

Lee and Collier elections offices have until 10 a.m. on Aug. 15 to turn over documents, including:

The list of Collier registered voters identified by Florida as potential noncitizens to whom the county sent letters to determine voter registration eligibility.

Documents to determine eligibility sent to voters registered in Collier identified as potential noncitizens.

Documents containing the names of Collier registered voters identified as potential noncitizens who were removed from Collier's list of eligible voters based on their noncitizen status.

Gov. Rick Scott last year initiated a push to have Florida election officials look for noncitizens on the voter rolls. That resulted in the state comparing driver license information with voter registration data to come up with an initial list of more than 180,000 people suspected of being ineligible to vote.

David Albers/Staff
Gov. Rick Scott takes questions from the media after making an appearance at the annual Citrus Industry Annual Conference at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa on Wednesday, June 13, 2012, in Bonita Springs.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS

David Albers/Staff Gov. Rick Scott takes questions from the media after making an appearance at the annual Citrus Industry Annual Conference at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa on Wednesday, June 13, 2012, in Bonita Springs.

The state in April distributed a list to county election supervisors of 2,600 people believed to be ineligible to vote. Many officials raised questions about the list, and most halted work amid conflicting legal opinions about whether voters can be removed within 90 days of a federal election, like the Aug. 14 primary.

Collier and Lee counties, however, didn't suspend the purge.

The Justice Department in June sued the state to stop the voter purge. That suit, filed in a Tallahassee federal court, said the state was in violation of the Voters Rights Act because the state was trying to remove voters within 90 days of a federal election.

Five Florida counties — including Collier — are covered by the Voters Rights Act, which states that election law changes must get federal pre-approval.

A federal judge, however, ruled there was nothing in federal voting laws to prevent the state from identifying noncitizens. The request also was denied, in part, because Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the state had abandoned the purge.

But since the initial ruling, the state received word the Department of Homeland Security would provide access to the SAVE — Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements — database. Once election workers are trained on the database, the state plans to run names and send information about noncitizens on voter rolls to county supervisors.

But the federal judge's ruling hasn't stopped the government from trying to halt the purge. The Justice Department on July 27 got involved in supporting a lawsuit filed in Tampa by the ACLU of Florida and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. That lawsuit seeks to stop the voter purge based on the belief it violates the Voters Rights Act.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit or the subpoenas issued Tuesday.

Both Edwards and Harrington said they intend to comply with the subpoena.

__ Staff writer Katherine Albers and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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