Civil Rights Groups Sue to Ensure that Absentee Ballots in Florida are Counted

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
November 2, 2004 12:00 am

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Lawsuit Comes After Nearly 20,000 Absentee Ballots Were Mailed to Voters Late

MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Florida Legal Services today filed a lawsuit late this afternoon on behalf of voters who were deprived of the right to vote in today’s presidential election because of foul-ups and delays by Miami-Dade and Broward elections officials in mailing absentee ballots.

“This lawsuit became necessary to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised due to no fault of their own, only the negligence of election officials,” said Randall Marshall, legal director of the ACLU of Florida and lead counsel in today’s lawsuit.

The non-partisan civil rights groups that filed the lawsuit argue that elections supervisors in both counties failed to give voters enough time to mail in their absentee ballots, essentially preventing voters who requested absentee ballots weeks before today’s election from voting. The groups are seeking to extend the deadline for the return of absentee ballots to match the deadline for the receipt of overseas absentee ballots.

The lawsuit comes after election officials rushed absentee ballots to nearly 20,000 voters this weekend who had previously requested ballots but never received them.

Two of the three voters named in today’s lawsuit – Fay Friedman, who has a second home in Pennsylvania and is registered in Broward, and Adam Meyer, who is a student at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville and is registered in Miami-Dade – received their absentee ballots on Election Day, but since both of them live out of town, they were unable to drop off the absentee ballots at the county elections offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day – as required by state election rules. Instead, they filled out their ballots and returned them to the supervisor with today’s date as postmarked.

The third plaintiff – University of Central Florida student Daniel Benhaim – is a registered Miami-Dade voter who voted using a federal write-in absentee ballot, which is accepted under state law from overseas voters. He received his absentee ballot on Election Day after mailing the write-in ballot to the Dade elections office.

Absentee ballots from voters living in the United States must be received by county elections supervisors by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, otherwise they will not be counted. On the other hand, overseas voters casting absentee ballots are exempt from that rule. Absentee ballots from overseas must be signed and postmarked by Election Day and received by the county elections supervisors no later than 10 days after the date of the election. In addition, overseas voters are permitted by state election rules to use write-in ballots to vote and have them counted as long as they’re postmarked by November 2 and received by elections offices by the election certification deadline of November 12th.

“The rules governing absentee ballots should apply equally for every voter, whether they are temporarily in other parts of the country or overseas,” said JoNel Newman of Florida Legal Services, co-counsel in the case.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Constance Kaplan and Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, the state’s chief election official. The case was assigned to Judge Patricia Seitz.

The ACLU and Florida Legal Services filed today’s lawsuit as part of their participation in the Election Protection Coalition. The case is Fay Friedman et al v. Brenda Snipes et al. (No: 04-22787). Attorneys Randall Marshall and JoNel Newman represent all three plaintiffs.

To read a copy of the complaint, go to /node/35087

To read the motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, go to /node/35088

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