Florida governor Rick Scott
Florida governor Rick Scott Reuters

Florida state officials will continue their quest to purge purportedly ineligible people from voter-registration rolls, a representative of Secretary of State Ken Detzner said Saturday, in defiance of objections from the U.S. Justice Department and county officials who say the policy violates two federal voting laws.

On Thursday, T. Christian Herren Jr., the head of the Justice Department's voting section, said the effort to remove voters appears to violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices that disenfranchise minorities. On a list of almost 2,700 voters the state suspects are noncitizens, blacks and Latinos were disproportionately represented, according to an analysis by the Miami Herald, which concluded Democratic and independent voters are the most likely to be targeted.

Despite the warning, Detzner's representative said on Saturday the state intends to go forward with its campaign. We have a year-round obligation to ensure the integrity of Florida's elections. We will be responding to (the Justice Department's) concerns next week, Chris Cate wrote in an email to Reuters.

Detzner has previously said his agency has identified 182,000 registered voters who are not citizens by comparing driver's-license and voter-registration databases. Beginning in April, the state requested that county election officials contact almost 2,700 suspected noncitizens by mail. The letters said that those who failed to provide proof of citizenship within 30 days would be removed from the voter rolls.

Florida is among a handful of states covered by the Voters Rights Act Section V, which requires areas with a deep history of racial discrimination -- mostly Southern states -- to seek approval from the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges before attempting to change any voting-related policy. Five Florida counties are required to abide by that law.

Florida failed to get clearance for its purge or its methods to identify people the state suspects are not U.S. citizens.

The Justice Department also warned the state may in violation of the National Voter Registration Act, which says efforts to alter or monitor voter rolls must take place 90 days or more before a federal election begins. Florida voters are set to vote in an Aug. 14 primary that includes candidates seeking congressional seats, meaning the state has missed that three-month deadline.

While Florida's state officials continue to champion the plan, its 67 county election supervisors said Friday they will discontinue the effort to purge voters.

Vicki Davis, a Martin County elections supervisor who is also president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, told the Palm Beach Post they believe the state data is flawed and that they intend to heed the Justice Department's warning.

There are just too many variables with this entire process at this time for supervisors to continue, Davis said.

Florida, a swing state where the 2000 presidential election was decided by fewer than 600 votes, will likely be a battleground state that could tilt this year's election in favor of either Democratic President Barack Obama or Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Civil-rights groups say Florida has a noted history of voter roll tampering, most recently in the 2000 and 2004 elections, when the state was found to be using inaccurate lists of purported convicted felons that allegedly kept ballots away from black voters, a key Democratic constituency.