Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is urging House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to schedule a hearing to review the 1993 National Voter Registration Act in light of the controversy surrounding Florida’s voter roll purge.
It is important to “review states that violate our federal voting protections,” Conyers wrote in a letter to Smith.
Conyers, the committee’s ranking member, specifically requested the committee review the Justice Department’s decision to file a lawsuit against the state of Florida over allegations it is illegally purging its voter rolls. Attorney General Eric Holder defended the department’s decision earlier this month.
The Justice Department filed suit against Florida earlier this month, alleging the state violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act by purging its voter rolls within 90 days of a federal election.
But the department hit a roadblock after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle rejected a request to put an immediate stop to Florida’s purging practices. Hinkle acknowledged that Florida’s list of voters to be purged included “inaccuracies” and chastised the state for its flippant treatment of voter registration requirements. Nevertheless, he ruled that the 90-day provision of the 1993 act did not apply to removing “non-citizens” who cannot legally register to vote.
Now, Conyers contends, states can frame voter roll purging laws in terms of “citizenship” to evade the 1993 act’s provision against purging voter rolls within 90 days of a federal election.
“Given the fact some states may frame voter purging programs around the question of citizenship, it is left to Congress to decide what this recent decision means for the [National Voter Registration Act],” Conyers wrote in a letter to Smith. ”We need to review the NVRA so that over inclusive purging programs do not burden duly registered voters against the potential risk to non-citizen voters.”
The lawmaker, along with 13 other Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, is urging the chairman to hold a hearing reevaluate the 1993 law.
“We request that you … review the department’s recent decision to file suit challenging the State of Florida’s voter purging program,” Conyers wrote. ”Since the 2000 elections, the state of Florida has not made the process of purging nor the names of individuals to be purged from the voter rolls public.”
He concludes: “No state should be allowed to purge eligible citizens from voter rolls.”
The department filed suit against Florida earlier this month alleging it violated the 1993 “motor voter” law in multiple ways. The department has argued that the state tried to purge its voter rolls with 90 days of a federal election. Also, the department says the state cannot reform voter identification laws without approval by the federal government because of provisions laid out in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The act says that states with a history of discrimination must seek federal approval before restructuring voter identification laws.
The department’s decision to pursue the lawsuit has been fought at nearly every step by Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
On June 6, Detzner indicated Florida would pursue the voter roll purge because the entire state was not subject to the federal preclearance requirement outlined in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Detzner also criticized the Department of Homeland Security for failing to grant the state access to a DHS database to verify the citizenship of Florida’s voters.
The department responded to Detzner’s concerns, saying the state didn’t acquire immigration-related data necessary to gain access to DHS’s database. It then filed suit against the state.
While Conyers and other Democratic lawmakers are worried about the precedent established by the “citizenship” reading of the 1993 “motor voter” act, they also express concern about widespread voter discrimination.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that every eligible voter is protected from unlawful purging,” the lawmakers write in the letter.