Lawsuit Filed in Miami Claims Florida Voter Purge Is Discriminatory

Maria Bustamante voted in the 2008 election, but as things stand now she won't be able to vote this year

Maria Bustamante became a U.S. citizen in 2006 and voted in the 2008 election.

“My earnest desire was to become a citizen of this country,” she said through a translator.

But Bustamante is one of 1,600 registered voters in Miami-Dade County who was named as a "potential non-citizen" as part of Governor Rick Scott's latest move to remove non-U.S. citizens from lists of registered voters.

“I think that it is not right that they are asking me to show papers to prove that I did something which I did back then and did legally,” she said.

As things stand now, Bustamante, who emigrated from Colombia, will not be allowed to vote in the upcoming election. The state of Florida sent her a letter saying she had 30 days to prove citizenship – and that deadline has already passed.

“Some of them have received letters saying they’re going to be removed, and if they vote it’s a felony. Some of them haven’t even received letters, and don’t know that they’re targeted for removal,” said attorney Katie Roberson-Young.

Bustamante's experience is similar to dozens of others in South Florida. That led the Service Employees International Union and other community organizations, along with the Duane Morris law firm, to file a lawsuit in federal court in Miami on Tuesday claiming discrimination.

It's the latest attempt, following the Department of Justice’s lawsuit, to stop the Sunshine State from purging voters.

“I think the impact is that it will absolutely will prevent minority voters from voting,” said Roberson-Young, who is part of the legal team that filed the lawsuit.

A spokesman for Florida's top election official sharply disputed the allegation that the state's actions are discriminatory.

"It is ridiculous to suggest that our process to identify and remove voters is in any way discriminatory," Chris Cate said. "The only criteria we are concerned about is whether or not someone is in fact ineligible, and if so they should not be allowed to cast a ballot."

The new lawsuit says that of the 562 named voters who responded to the state, 514 of them were able to prove citizenship.

“We hope that a federal judge will tell Governor Rick Scott and the state of Florida that they can’t continue with this purge program,” Roberson-Young said.

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