Poisonous Anti-Voter Legislation Will Spur Lawsuits and Trigger Federal Intervention, ACLU Says

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
April 17, 2009 12:00 am

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Florida Legislature Must Avoid a Backslide to 2000 Election Debacle

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Responding to railroading of an elections bill by a Florida legislative House Council and Senate Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida vowed lawsuits and efforts to involve the U.S. Department of Justice to protect Floridians from legislative efforts to hack away at citizens’ voting rights.

The ACLU mobilized its members last week in opposition when the Senate bill was originally scheduled to be heard and then again this week when an even more egregious strike-all committee amendment was submitted by Senator Diaz de la Portilla, who sits on the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.

The Senate committee bill passed and is moving forward. In the House Council, a similar 81-page bill was released around 4:30 p.m. yesterday, and passed during an 8 a.m. council hearing today in which public comment was abruptly cut off.

“Spurious allegations of voter fraud – in the absence of any evidence to support the allegation – cannot be used to further restrict voters’ rights. If this legislation should pass, we will be taking these egregious violations of Floridians’ rights to Attorney General Holder and the Department of Justice, and if needed, to the courts. The days of the Justice Department Voting Rights Division’s outright hostility to our most vulnerable voters are over,” said Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida Executive Director.

“We certainly will call on the new administration and new AG to invoke its authority under the Voting Rights Act to vigorously challenge and put an abrupt halt to these blatant attacks on voting rights in Florida. This is an attempt to hijack the legislative process and disfranchise more and more voters—especially the most vulnerable. Senator Diaz de la Portilla’s characterization of the Senate Bill as protecting voter rights must be seen for what it is: an attempt to hoodwink Florida voters into supporting a bill that will strip them of voting rights, to an extent we haven’t seen in many years. The public will not be fooled, and we will not stand by and let this happen,” Simon added.

Claims by politicians that there is a need to further restrict the types of IDs that are accepted for voter registration and at the polls to prevent fraud remain unsubstantiated, and the end result will be that more and more Floridians will be left out of the democratic process. “The legislature’s continued foray into this absurd notion is further proof that they are creating more problems, not fixing them. Enough is enough,” Simon continued.

The proposed changes to Florida’s voting and elections laws would:

• Expand the “no-solicitation zone,” creating a constantly shifting zone that would be impossible to enforce and further restricts voters’ ability to receive important nonpartisan voting rights information at the polling place;
• Further limits acceptable IDs, without proposing acceptable alternatives, preventing eligible citizens from registering to vote, and properly registered voters from exercising their right to vote;
• Force more voters to vote by provisional ballots, which have a higher rate of rejection;
• Increase the frequency of “list maintenance programs” causing more validly registered voters to be removed from the voter rolls;
• Extend the deadline for making accessible paper (marksense) ballots available for disabled Floridians, relegating voters with disabilities to four additional years of voting on second class touch screen voting systems;
• Impose unnecessary and onerous restrictions on third-party voter registration groups. This would have the direct effect of decreasing electoral participation by Floridians who are significantly more likely to register through these drives, especially eligible Black and Latino voters; and
• Impose unnecessary and onerous restrictions on groups that collect citizen petitions for ballot measures, making it harder for regular citizens – as compared to well-financed corporate interests – to get measures on the ballot.

“We see regular and concerted efforts by legislators to take away more and more voting rights from Floridians and suppress the vote in Florida, and this year’s legislation is a most egregious example,” said Muslima Lewis, ACLU of Florida Voting Rights Project Director. “Too many Floridians are already disfranchised. If passed, this year’s legislation will make it more difficult for people to register to vote, vote on a regular (not provisional) ballot on Election Day, obtain nonpartisan voting rights information at the polls, and engage in other meaningful forms of civic participation such as through petition drives and registering through third-party voter registration drives.”

The ACLU has already won part of the battle to stem incursions on voting rights in a federal lawsuit filed in federal court in Fort Myers leading up to last year’s primary election. The court enjoined enforcement of the 100-foot “no-solicitation” zone against groups gathering petition signatures from voters exiting the polling. The state has appealed this decision. “The ACLU of Florida is prepared to take this fight to court,” added Lewis.

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