Florida Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit on Behalf of Broward Voter Disqualified From Voting Because of Unchecked Citizenship Box

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 14, 2004 12:00 am

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MIAMI – In a complaint filed today in federal district court in Gainesville, the American Civil Liberties Union and Florida Legal Services challenged Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes’ rejection of the voter registration form of a 77-year-old Broward woman who didn’t check the citizenship box, even though she signed an oath affirming she is a U.S. citizen.

“This is a classic example of state election officials once again placing obstacles in the way of qualified voters,” said ACLU of Florida Legal Director Randall Marshall.

The civil rights groups filed papers to intervene in a case challenging the state’s failure to accept the voter registration forms of applicants who did not check the citizenship box, even though they affirmed, under oath, on line 17 of the same form that they are, in fact, U.S. citizens.

The lawsuit challenges instructions sent by Secretary of State Glenda Hood to all 67 county election supervisors that led to the hyper-technical disqualification of voter registration applications. Although elections officials in some counties, including Miami-Dade, Leon and Orange, are accepting the forms if voters signed the oath, Broward County has rejected the forms of voters who didn’t check the citizenship box.

Today’s complaint was filed on behalf of Inez Williams, whose registration form was flagged as “incomplete” because she failed to check the citizenship box, although she signed the affirmation of citizenship on the very same form. The state is now prohibiting her from casting a ballot on Nov. 2 because of the omission.

Williams submitted her mail-in voter registration form on July 26, 2004. Nearly two months later, she received a letter from Broward County Elections Supervisor Snipes saying her registration form was incomplete. As a result of the county’s delay in notifying her, she was unable to submit a completed form – with a checked citizenship box – in time for the Oct. 4 registration deadline to be able to cast a ballot on Election Day.

“I’m very much upset because I feel that they have denied me my right to vote,” said Inez Williams, who moved from New York City in May and now lives in Lauderhill. “This is not fair to me at all. I’ve been voting in this country for more than 30 years without any problems, so I was shocked when I realized that I would be shut out of the voting booth this November. They’re making me jump through hoops to be able to exercise my right to vote, when in reality all the information they need is right there in front of them.”

According to the ACLU’s complaint, federal law prohibits state or county officials from denying “the right of any individual to vote in any election because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting, if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under State law to vote in such election.”

The ACLU of Florida said that this case is the latest of continued efforts to reform Florida’s election laws.

“It seems that at every turn in the road, whether it is which registration form will be required, the purging of voters, whether all provisional ballots will be counted, whether the law requiring manual recounts in close elections will be honored, and whether voter registration applications will be tossed if one box is not checked, state election officials find a way not to come down on the side of protecting the right to vote,” said ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.

Attorney JoNel Newman of Florida Legal Services is representing Williams, along with Marshall of the ACLU of Florida. The complaint is online at: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/Legal20PDfs/Citizenshipcomplaintintervene.pdf

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