MIAMI — The state of Florida announced it was suing the federal government in a growing row over voter registration just five months before the US presidential vote.
The lawsuit calls on the Department of Homeland Security to provide Florida with access to an immigration database so that it can check if foreigners have made it onto lists of people eligible to cast ballots.
"For nearly a year, the US Department of Homeland Security has failed to meet its legal obligation to provide us the information necessary to identify and remove ineligible voters from Florida's voter rolls," Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a statement. "We've filed a lawsuit to ensure the law is carried out and we are able to meet our obligation to keep the voter rolls accurate and current."
Early last month, Florida election officials said they had found 2,600 registered voters who are not believed to be US citizens. They also announced they were reviewing the details of another 180,000 people. In total, Florida's voting rolls contain 12 million names.
The so-called purge of non-US citizens has sparked considerable controversy.
Black and Hispanic Americans have complained about letters from authorities asking them to confirm their immigration status. Some fear they will not have enough time to clear things up before local legislative elections on August 14 and the presidential election November 6.
The suit comes after the Justice Department demanded that Florida suspend its purge of voter registration rolls, claiming the process violated the National Voter Registration Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union is among the most outspoken opponents of Florida's actions and has taken Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, to task by recently filing a lawsuit of their own against the plan.
"Governor Scott's voter purge has been a colossal nightmare from the beginning," Howard Simon, director of the group's Florida operations said in a statement. "The governor's claim that he needs information from the Department of Homeland Security to justify his illegal purge of voters is an acknowledgement that he was using bad data and kicking eligible citizens off the voter rolls in the first place."
Florida, a state of roughly 19 million people, is a key swing state that could play a potentially decisive role in the presidential vote come November.