Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday defended controversial efforts by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to purge the Sunshine State's voter rolls, denying it has targeted Hispanics.
"I wouldn't characterize it as an effort to purge Latinos from the voting rolls," Rubio told reporters at a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg News. "I think there's the goal of ensuring that everyone who votes in Florida is qualified to vote. If you're not a citizen of the United States, you shouldn't be voting. That's the law."
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Rubio, the highest-ranking Hispanic official in Florida, is seen as a potential pick by likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney as a running mate. Scott is also a Republican.
The Justice Department on Tuesday filed suit against the state to stop the voter purge, arguing in part that it violates a federal law that bans such steps within 90 days of a federal election. (Florida's primary is Aug. 14.) The ACLU of Florida also has filed a lawsuit, saying the effort violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects minority groups.
The civil liberties organization says Hispanics make up 14% of the Florida electorate but are 61% of several thousand registered voters who have been told to provide proof of citizenship or lose their right to vote.
Meanwhile, Florida is suing the federal Department of Homeland Security to get access to a database the state says could help identify non-citizens on the voter rolls. So far, state officials say 96 ineligible voters have been identified.
Rubio said there could be "a legitimate debate" about how to carry out the purge, but he called it a worthwhile effort.
"We know that there are at least 80 to 90 names on the list that don't belong," he said. "We should be concerned about that. We should be concerned about people that are registered in multiple states. And we should be concerned about our list that includes the names of people who have passed away, because I think that could lend itself to mayhem and madness."