WASHINGTON -- As labor and minority groups gear up for their get-out-the-vote operations for the fall elections, the head of the NAACP blasted Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Tuesday for Florida's controversial voter purge, predicting a "tidal wave of voter suppression laws" around the country in the coming years.
"What we are facing is a coordinated effort to block the vote," said Benjamim Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "What we are facing is a group of highly partisan governors across this country who have simply decided to do whatever they can to suppress the vote in key demographics."
Jealous made his remarks at the AFL-CIO headquarters, where the labor federation and the Hispanic civil rights group National Council of La Raza laid out their voter turnout strategies for the November election. Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, said the group would be running its "strongest voter protection [effort] ever," coordinating with its network of lawyers and union members to guide voters at the polls and to fight legislation in court when deemed necessary.
Holt Baker declined to say how much money the AFL-CIO would be pouring into this effort, but she said the labor federation would be focusing its money and ground game on six states: Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada.
The AFL-CIO also launched a website aimed at guiding people through the voter laws in states across the country
"We've never done anything on this scale before, because the attacks we're seeing on the right are unprecedented," Holt Baker said.
Scott ordered the purge of as many as 182,000 suspected non-citizens from Florida's voter rolls earlier this year, setting in motion a legal battle between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice. Federal officials ordered the state to halt the purge two weeks ago, saying it violated federal voter-suppression laws. Florida has ignored the order, and the Justice Department has vowed to sue.
A Miami Herald analysis of the voter purge found that a disproportionate number of the voters deemed suspect happen to be Latino -- a fact seized on by groups like the NAACP and the Council of La Raza, which say the purge is politically motivated. Scott, fielding heavy criticism from Democrats and minority groups across the country, said on CNN Tuesday that the purge had turned up "over 50" non-citizens who had previously voted.
"Gov. Scott's defiance to the Department of Justice is deeply troubling," Jealous said. "But it's right in line with his actions so far. He has seemed committed to ... clear as many voters off the rolls as possible in black and Latino and poor communities."
Lane Wright, press secretary for Scott, told The Huffington Post that election supervisors have already determined that 100 of the voters examined so far are in fact non-citizens, and that 50 of those 100 have voted in a past election. He insisted that politics played no part in the decision to move forward with the purge.
"We have irrefutable evidence that non-citizens are on our voting roles and they are voting," Wright said. "Voting, when you're not a citizen of this country, is a felony ... It's absolutely not politically motivated. We're just trying to follow the law."
Wright said the 100 non-citizens came out of a pool of roughly 2,600 people who supervisors have started to examine. "We know there are errors, and some who got inappropriately flagged," Wright said. "That's why we're going through a vetting process."
Several Republican-controlled state legislatures have recently passed laws tightening requirements that voters present valid identification at the polls. Opponents of the laws, pointing to the low incidence of documented voter fraud, argue that such legislation merely makes it more difficult for legitimate voters to cast their votes. Some of the voter ID laws have hit snags in federal court and have been opposed by the Justice Department.
Jealous said that whereas the NAACP has traditionally focused on voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, he expects that fighting voter suppression laws will become a larger piece of the organization's overall strategy. "We're already gearing up for what we expect to be a tidal wave of voter suppression laws in 2013," he said.
Holt Baker said that in addition to fighting voter ID laws, the AFL-CIO aims to boost voter registration among union members across the country. She said there are currently 2.3 million active union members who aren't registered, and the labor federation aims to add 400,000 of them to the rolls by November.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us and we're getting started early," she said.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Gov. Rick Scott's office.
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