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Civil Rights Groups Seek to Stop Florida Voter Purge Law

Sending out letters that would result in mass disenfranchisement without consulting the career lawyers in the voting section was a kind of hobby for von Spakovsky at the Justice Department.

One of the states that adopted von Spakovsky's (or, as it seemed to them, the Justice Department's) advice was Washington. But a lawsuit successfully blocked its law, similar to Florida's, from going into effect. Justin Levitt, a lawyer for the Brennan Center, which has been involved in both lawsuits, said that only Florida, Iowa, and South Dakota still had such laws on the books.

The Florida lawsuit argues that not only would the law reject thousands of legitimate voters because of typos, misspellings, and the like, but that minorities are the most effected because Hispanic, Haitian, and African-American names in general tend to be more prone to transcription errors. The groups cite a report by the Social Security Administration that, "of 2.6 million voter registration records submitted to the SSA through February of 2007, 46.2% -- nearly half of the records - resulted in a failed match." Other state databases, such as New York, the lawsuit says, have failed to match approximately twenty percent of voter registrations to driver's license databases. The lawsuit is ongoing.

Last week, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division wrote Florida's secretary of state to request more information about a number of aspects of the law, including a measure that would reduce the number of forms of identification that voters can use under the state's voter ID law. Under the Voting Rights Act, Florida cannot enforce any law with a substantial effect on voting without prior approval by the Department.

Rich, the voting section's former chief, called such a letter "routine" and said it wasn't a clear indication that the Department would reject the law. But interestingly, one of the areas that the Department requested more information about was its process of "verifying voter registration applications" -- its system of matching registrations to other databases. That means the Department will be reviewing whether its own advice (thanks to von Spakovsky) has resulted in discrimination against a certain class of voters. Given the current leadership of the voting section in the Civil Rights Division, however, it seems unlikely that the Department would change its mind.

As for von Spakovsky, the hold that Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) have on his nomination to the FEC has resulted in a month-long deadlock, with no indications that a compromise is in the works. The term on von Spakovsky's December, 2005 recess appointment expires at the end of the year.