In a Victory for Florida Voters, Court Gives Public Right to Access Voter Lists that May be Purged
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TALLAHASSEE, FL – In a victory for Florida voters, a Leon circuit court judge today struck down a state law that prevents copying a state list with names of more than 47,000 registered voters who may be deleted from the voter rolls because the state has identified them as possible ex-felons.
“This is good news for voters because now these records will be open and available for public inspection to help protect the right of every eligible voter in Florida,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon. “Our interest in this case is to analyze the information on the list to prevent eligible voters from being wrongfully purged from the rolls.”
At issue is Florida Statutes Section 98.0979, which substantially restricts meaningful access to public voter registration records. Although the list technically is a public record, the statute broadly prohibits people and organizations, including the ACLU of Florida, from copying the records or taking notes from them. Only certain people and groups, such as political parties or candidates, have access to the records.
In a seven-page order, Leon County Second Judicial Circuit Court Judge Nikki Ann Clark ruled that the statute is unconstitutional and “does not articulate a public necessity for limiting public access.” “The right to inspect without the right to copy is an empty right indeed,” wrote Clark. “In this case, the right to inspect the suspected felons list without the right to copy the list would be valueless.”
The ACLU of Florida filed a public records request on June 14 to obtain a copy of the list, arguing it was unable to fulfill its mission to “assist persons inaccurately classified as ineligible to vote” if it did not have the ability to copy the list of ineligible voters prepared by the state of Florida. After the state denied that request, the ACLU filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed on June 2 by the Atlanta-based Cable News Network (CNN). Florida’s Division of Elections restricted the news agency’s access to the list, saying state law prohibited state officials from handing over copies of the list.
Unlike most other states, Florida permanently strips people of their civil and voting rights following a felony conviction. Unless the Board of Executive Clemency (consisting of the Governor and members of his Cabinet) restores those rights, the ban lasts a lifetime.
In May, elections officials identified approximately 47,000 people who may not be eligible to vote because of a prior felony conviction and urged county elections supervisors to begin the process of purging them from the voter rolls. But the ACLU has repeatedly urged elections supervisors in all 67 Florida counties to independently verify the criminal records of people identified by the state as convicted felons before initiating the process to purge them in order to avoid a repeat of the 2000 election fiasco, in which thousands of eligible voters were purged as the result of errors in the state’s felon list.
Representing the ALCU of Florida is Alison Steele of the St. Petersburg law firm of Rahdert, Steele, Bryan, Bole & Reynolds along with the ACLU’s Legal Director, Randall Marshall, and the director of ACLU’s West Central Florida Office, Rebecca Harrison Steele.
A copy of the court order is available at: /node/35084
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