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Florida intent on denying people the right to vote

By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor
updated 8:39 AM EDT, Mon June 4, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Florida is purging of its voting rolls in an effort to keep U.S. noncitizens from voting
  • Martin: Gov. Rick Scott created another mess that could have been avoided
  • According to Scott, potentially 182,000 voters on the rolls are noncitizens
  • Justice Department weighs in, asks why change comes 90 days before election

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- It wouldn't be an election year without Florida exhibiting its usual despicable efforts to keep residents from voting.

After the 2000 debacle where the nation had to contend with hanging chads, ballots not being counted, more lawyering than anyone ever needs to deal with, and finally a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, you would think officials there would do all they can to stay out of the news.

But, no. Leave it to the state legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to create another mess that could have easily been avoided. This time, it's the purging of the state's voting rolls in an effort to keep U.S. noncitizens from voting. According to Scott, potentially 182,000 voters on the rolls are noncitizens.

Now there is nothing wrong with any state ensuring that those who are eligible to vote are American citizens. But when it comes to Florida, they didn't even take the necessary precautions to ensure that folks who are legal citizens wouldn't be a part of their purge process.

The big question is, why now? Why would Florida, with a statewide vote coming up in 90 days, choose now of all times to do this?

That's a question the Department of Justice is asking.

T. Christian Herren, chief lawyer in the DOJ's voting rights division, wrote a two-page letter to Florida officials asking why they chose to make this move without consulting the feds, an apparent violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Civil rights groups are naturally outraged because in 2000 Florida purged thousands from its rolls. Most of them were minority, and a substantial number were law-abiding residents who never should have been stricken.

In Miami-Dade County, officials sent 1,500 letters to voters saying they were potentially noncitizens, and nearly one-third of them provided proof that they were indeed Americans. What kind of failure rate is that to be proud of?

This action follows the draconian voter suppression law -- supporters call it voter protection -- that was passed by the Florida legislature, which was so ridiculous and punitive that the nonpartisan League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote! chose not to register voters out of fear of amassing substantial fines. A federal judge has ordered Florida to stop enforcing several provisions of that law.

It is shameful that Republicans in Florida are concerned with blocking Americans from the ballots out of some ridiculous fear of noncitizens voting.

And they should be embarrassed by their actions, which include questioning the citizenship of 91-year-old Bill Internicola, a World War II veteran.

Internicola was a medic during the war and earned the Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge. He was also bestowed with the Chevalier Legion of Honour by France.

But because of Florida's voter purge plan, he got a letter saying he had 30 days to prove he was an American or he would be stricken from the voter rolls.

Internicola fought for democracy overseas, only to have partisan hacks question his legitimacy.

Scott should have the decency to call Internicola and offer him a personal apology for the insulting letter.

The Department of Justice should be aggressive in demanding that Florida, and any other state, isn't taking action that is detrimental to Americans exercising their right to vote.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin

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