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Florida Voter Purge Draws Lawsuit From Groups Claiming State Is In Violation Of Voting Rights Act

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FLORIDA VOTER PURGE
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* Lawsuit claims violation of Voting Rights Act

* Hispanics seen as unfairly targeted for cut from rolls

* Legal challenge follows others from Justice Dept, ACLU

MIAMI, June 19 (Reuters) - Florida was hit with a new lawsuit on Tuesday over its efforts, under Republican Governor Rick Scott, to purge non-citizens from the state's voter rolls.

A coalition of voting rights organizations, including the Fair Elections Legal Network, filed the lawsuit in federal court in Miami on behalf of various plaintiffs. They included the Florida Immigrant Coalition, the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights and a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union.

The lawsuit, which follows others filed earlier this month by the U.S. Justice Department and American Civil Liberties Union, names Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who is responsible for running elections in the state, as the defendant.

It accuses Florida of violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because a disproportionate of those targeted, as part of efforts to cull non-citizens from the voter rolls, are Hispanics.

Latinos make up only about 14 percent of registered voters in Florida, according to the lawsuit. It added, however, that 61 percent of the 2,700 people on a "purge list" of suspected non-citizens, targeted for potential removal from the state's voter rolls, were Hispanic.

"Adding up the disparate impact, 82 percent of those on the purge list are people of color. These numbers are glaringly disproportionate," the complaint said.

Governor Scott, Detzner and other officials have defended the voter purge effort, saying it was aimed at protecting the integrity of the voter rolls and involved just a fraction of Florida's more than 11 mill lion voters.

But the purge effort came against the backdrop of earlier moves by Scott and other Republicans to cut back on early voting hours and crack down on voter-registration drives, And critics say the efforts, in the run-up to November's closely contested presidential election, are aimed at lowering the participation of students and minorities who historically tend to vote Democratic.

A large and enthusiastic turnout of black and Hispanic voters helped carry President Barack Obama to victory in Florida, a crucial battleground state, in 2008.

(Reporting By Tom Brown)

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