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Judge: Only citizens should vote

Angel Castillo Jr. Florida Voices
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:36 PM

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The seemingly simple and common sense proposition that only United States citizens should be allowed to vote in American elections, including in Florida, has been endorsed by a federal district judge in Tallahassee.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, a 1996 Clinton appointee, has refused a request from the Obama Administration that he put an immediate stop to Florida Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to eliminate non-citizens from voter rolls. The preliminary decision does not put an end to the lawsuit, and an appeal may ensue.

Scott's efforts to ensure the integrity of the voting process has turned into yet another political food fight focused on the presidential election.

The Florida Constitution limits the right to vote to "Every citizen of the United States who is at least 18 years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law."

Obama, however, has decided to advance the peculiar notion that purging the voter rolls of ineligible voters somehow discriminates against those Hispanic and other minority voters whom he expects to vote for him in November. Accordingly, he had his attorney general, Eric Holder, sue the state earlier this month to halt Scott's audit of the more than 11.2-million persons registered here to vote.

The federal government's lawyers asked for a temporary restraining order, claiming Scott was violating the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which prohibits the removal of registered voters in elections for federal office within 90 days of the election. Florida is holding federal primary elections on Aug. 14.

Judge Hinkle, however, agreeing with Gov. Scott's position, ruled there was nothing in the federal voting laws that prevents the state of Florida from identifying and disqualifying voters who may not be U.S. citizens, even if it is close in time to an election.

Scott has been stymied in his well-meaning efforts to clean up the state's voter lists, which always contain errors, because it is very difficult to obtain a reliable database of U.S. citizens for comparison purposes.

The federal Department of Homeland Security keeps a "Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program" database of immigration and citizen records. However, the SAVE database contains information only about naturalized U.S. citizens, children born abroad who derived their citizenship through their parents, and the immigration status of certain categories of non-citizens. The SAVE database does not include citizens born in the United States, who constitute nearly 87 percent of all U.S. residents.

Scott has sued the Department of Homeland Security seeking "immediate" statutorily provided access to the SAVE database. The lawsuit accuses the Obama Administration of "unwarranted delay and recalcitrance" in responding to Florida's repeated requests for such access since August of last year.

How this will all play out in the courts is hard to foretell.

Angel Castillo, Jr., a former reporter and editor for the New York Times and The Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami.

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