September 17, 2004


WASHINGTON - In testimony today before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a voting rights expert with the ACLU of Florida warned of serious voting problems that still plague the state. 

"The November 2000 election taught us that even the seemingly smallest voting policy, practice, procedure, or problem must be scrutinized in order to prevent widespread disfranchisement," said ACLU of Florida Voting Rights Project Director Courtenay Strickland. "Florida elections officials must devote time and energy to changing these policies and practices that together threaten to suppress the vote of large segments of the population, and particularly those within minority communities. Our democracy depends upon it."

Some of the state's most pressing election irregularities, Strickland said, include the state's provisional balloting scheme that discards ballots cast by eligible voters in certain instances as "illegal," the state's confusing voter identification requirements, and its inadequate poll worker training. In addition, Strickland cited four examples of state policies and procedures that suppress votes and wrongly strip eligible voters of their ability to cast ballots. She also discussed complaints received by the ACLU of Florida in the most recent Florida election. 

Through community outreach and litigation, the ACLU of Florida has worked in recent months to help safeguard the right to vote. In addition to distributing "Voter Empowerment Cards" and setting up a hotline to accept voting-related complaints, the ACLU fought to make the "felon purge" list subject to public scrutiny, and after its errors were exposed, planned litigation against the state until Gov. Jeb Bush pulled the list from use in this election. 

The ACLU also successfully challenged a state rule banning hand recounts on touch-screen voting machines. State elections officials have until September 26 to revise the rule or appeal an August 27 order striking down the law as "invalid." 

In recent weeks, the non-partisan ACLU expressed concern over a state statute that requires elections officials to discard as "illegal" the provisional ballots of eligible voters who vote in a precinct other than the one assigned by elections officials. 

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan agency charged with monitoring and protecting voting rights. In addition to Strickland, other panelists today are Sheldon T. Bradshaw, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights; Maria Valdez, Regional Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Chicago; Jacqueline Johnson, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians; and Patricia Aldaba, a voter from East Chicago.

The ACLU testimony is online at /node/35086

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