Justice Department sues Florida over voter purge

A Republican primary voter heads to the polls early at polling precinct No. 133 at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Polling booths opened in Florida on January 31, the largest state so far in the Republican White House race, with Mitt Romney holding a solid lead over Newt Gingrich in the latest polls.

(CBS News) The Department of Justice is making good on its stated plan to sue Florida over Republican Gov. Rick Scott's controversial sweep of the state's voting rolls, filing a complaint Tuesday alleging that the efforts are in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993.

"The State of Florida is conducting a program 'the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official list of eligible voters,' within 90 days of an election for Federal office," the complaint reads. "The NVRA expressly forbids such removal programs during the 90-day period before an election for Federal office, with a few exceptions that do not apply here."

In a statement, Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, emphasizes the DOJ's "overriding interest in protecting the rights of eligible citizens to register and vote free from unlawful burdens, while at the same time ensuring that ineligible persons do not register and vote in federal elections in violation of the law." 

"The department is committed to enforcing the National Voter Registration Act so that these objectives are met," he said. 

Florida officials and the Department of Justice have been at odds for weeks over the initiative, which began months ago and aims to identify and purge non-citizens from the state's voter rolls.

The DOJ ordered the state to halt the process last week, citing concerns that it violated voters' rights, but Scott pushed back, defending his efforts and pledging to carry out the process. And on Monday, the Florida Secretary of State announced that Florida was suing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for access to its federal database as a part of that continued effort.

"I have an obligation to enforce the laws of our land. You don't get to vote in Florida if you're a non-U.S. citizen," Scott said on CNN Tuesday.

Florida identified an initial list of 2,600 potential non-citizens based on a cross-search of data from the Florida Department of Elections and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Voters were to be notified by letter that they had been identified as potentially ineligible to vote, and had thirty days upon receipt of the letter to provide documentation of their citizenship or face removal from the polls.

But the database relies on some outdated driver's license information, and a number of the people on the list of possible non-citizens have since proven their citizenship, according to the state's election department. Opponents of the purge argue that the efforts disproportionately targeted Latinos and Democrats.

Despite the public sparring between the DOJ and Florida officials, most county election officials have already opted not to continue with the process, which they are able to do given the guidelines of the state process. At least one county, however, said it was proceeding with the identification and purge of non-citizens.