ACLU of Florida Analysis of Recent Election Data Shows State Rejected a Significant Number of Provisional Ballots As Illegal

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 12, 2004 12:00 am

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MIAMI — The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today released a report containing disturbing information about the number of provisional ballots cast by eligible voters that have been rejected as illegal during elections over the past two years in Florida. The report raises significant questions about whether every vote will be counted on November 2.

“Election officials should not be assuring voters that they will count every vote on November 2, when in reality voters who cast provisional ballots may have their ballots tossed in the trash,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “In a state where the upcoming election will likely be decided again by a slim margin, there is absolutely no justification for throwing out ballots cast by perfectly eligible voters.”

An ACLU examination involving 10 counties revealed that of the 2,151 provisional ballots cast in six elections across Florida from 2002 through 2004, 7.3 percent of the ballots were rejected because they were cast in the wrong precinct locations. When taking into account the overall number of rejected ballots from those same elections — 1,077 — 14.5 percent were thrown out for that same reason. The analysis was based on documents obtained from public records requests filed by the ACLU in counties across Florida.

On Election Day, provisional ballots will be available at precincts statewide for voters who can’t find their names listed at the polls or who are told they aren’t eligible to vote. But Section 101.048 of the Florida Statutes requires the state to discard as “illegal” the entire provisional ballot of otherwise eligible voters who cast them in a precinct other than the one assigned by elections officials.

The report released today by the ACLU revealed that during the September 2002 elections in Miami-Dade County, for example, 10.1 percent of the provisional ballots cast were rejected because they were cast by voters in incorrect precincts. In Orange County, that number increased to 15 percent during the November 2002 election, while in some counties such as Brevard, the figured jumped to 19 percent during the same time frame.

The ACLU released today’s analysis just days after filing a “friend-of-the-court” brief asking the Florida Supreme Court to strike down the statute that limits the use of provisional ballots. The court declined to hear the ACLU’s arguments. The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of provisional balloting restrictions on Wednesday morning.

The ACLU argues that provisional ballots cast by registered voters — at the very least in multi-district races, such as countywide, congressional, statewide and the presidential election — should be counted regardless of the precinct in which the voter is standing, and that rejecting provisional ballots by eligible voters is an illegal restriction of the right to vote.

“Provisional ballots were meant to address problems revealed in 2000 when eligible voters were turned away from the polls if elections officials were unable to find their names on the voter rolls,” added Simon. “Yet, here we are four years later, faced with a state law that does the exact opposite of what it was intended to address by suppressing the right to vote of large segments of the population.”

According to the ACLU, a major source of complaints from voters during the August 31, 2004 primary election dealt with polling place locations. The organization also noted that problems with provisional ballots will only be exacerbated on Nov. 2 because there have been substantial changes in both the numbers and locations of precincts in Escambia County and other areas hardest hit by hurricanes. Populations changes in Miami-Dade and Broward also mean hundreds of new precincts, as well as significant changes in precinct locations, further assuring that some qualified voters who show up at the wrong precinct and cast a provisional ballot will have their ballots “rejected as illegal.”

The report can be found at: /node/21991

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