TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A federal judge Wednesday rejected a request from the Obama administration to put an immediate stop to Florida's noncitizen voter purge program. But an attorney for the state said the program would remain halted until the state can get better information on who is a citizen.
The Justice Department had argued that the state's attempt to remove 2,600 noncitizens from the voter rolls violated a federal law that prohibits the systemic removal of voters within 90 days before an election.
Department attorneys also said that voters' rights were violated because many U.S. citizens had received letters questioning their citizenship and threatening to remove them from the voting rolls.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle - in what Florida Gov. Rick Scott called a "common-sense decision" - ruled that the 90-day provision did not apply to removing noncitizens, who can't legally register to vote. But Hinkle also chastised the state.
"Determining citizenship is not as easy as the state would have it," Hinkle said in a ruling from the bench made about a half-hour after arguments concluded. "Questioning someone's citizenship isn't as trivial as the state would have it."
At Wednesday's hearing, Michael Carvin, representing the state, argued that the Division of Elections had essentially stopped the program following complaints from supervisors of elections that the state's initial list included hundreds of citizens. The state has sued in Washington to get access to a Department of Homeland Security database with updated immigration data.
"They've been asking nine months, 11 months, please give us that data," Carvin said.
Hinkle is the same judge who last month threw out a 2011 law that restricted voter registration groups like the League of Women Voters, singling out a provision that required election forms to be turned in within 48 hours of being filled out.