ACLU of Florida Launches Equal Voting Rights Project to Address Irregularities, Reform Election Practices in Florida

February 17, 2001

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MIAMI--In the wake of the presidential election fiasco that left thousands of Florida voters wondering whether their ballots were accurately recorded, the ACLU of Florida today announced the launch of a new project to ensure that Florida voters are never again deprived of their right to vote.

With the help of a $300,000 grant from the Steven and Michele Kirsch Foundation, the ACLU of Florida has established the Florida Equal Voting Rights Project to address many of the irregularities in Florida's electoral process that came to light during the last election.

"There is a lot to be done in the courts, the legislature, and before county election boards in order to make sure that every citizen not only has the right to vote, but that every vote is accurately recorded," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. "Clearly that did not happen in the past election, and our new Equal Voting Rights Project will work to make sure that the debacle of the November elections is not repeated the next time Floridians go to vote."

The new project is a collaborative arrangement with two other non-profit legal organizations: Florida Legal Services and Florida Justice Institute. A Coordinator and three attorneys will staff the Project. The attorneys assigned to the Project - Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida, JoNel Newman, Florida Justice Institute, and Charles Elsesser, Jr., Florida Legal Services - together have more than 60 years of combined civil rights litigation experience.

"Florida Legal Services is very pleased to be able to join with the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute to help ensure that all Floridians, especially the poor and disadvantaged, do not face unfair barriers and discrimination when seeking to exercise their right to vote," said Kent Spuhler, Executive Director of Florida Legal Services, which has its headquarters in Tallahassee.

The goals of the ACLU's Equal Voting Rights Project include enforcing the right to appropriate language assistance where needed, challenging the state's failure to assist inmates and ex-felons in applying for the restoration of their voting rights, investigating the purging practices that resulted in the disenfranchisement of qualified voters, bringing counties into compliance with state requirements that permit individuals to vote by affirmation if they are not carrying identification, ensuring state compliance with the national "motor voter" law, monitoring the technology proposals to ensure both a uniform voting system and a system that does not unfairly disenfranchise poor or minority communities, and creating a Florida Voter's Bill of Rights.

"This project will endeavor to put an end to the racially disparate voting irregularities the entire nation witnessed during the past election. Florida unfortunately must be forced to relinquish its grasp on relics of the Old South so it can proceed into the new millennium," said Randy Berg, Executive Director of the Florida Justice Institute, a public interest and civil rights law firm located in Miami.

The Steven and Michele Kirsch Foundation, located in San Jose, California, was established in 1999 by husband-and-wife philanthropists with a "passion for supporting high-impact activities" ranging from cancer research and non-violent nuclear disarmament to campaign finance reform and air pollution control. With the recommendation of Steve Kirsch, the former chairman of Infoseek - the Internet search engine acquired by Disney last year - the foundation's Board of Directors agreed to support the ACLU of Florida's efforts to remedy Florida's flawed voting system with hopes of establishing a model for electoral reform nationwide.

"While it appears the state is making some effort to address technological concerns, the reforms that are needed go beyond changes in voting technology," added the ACLU's Simon. "Every citizen who voted by the punch-card process has reason to be anxious about whether his or her vote was accurately recorded. But not all of the problems that last November's election uncovered will be solved by updating the technology of voting."

The ACLU has routinely represented voters and candidates in election contests across the country in order to protect the right to vote and the right to participate in an election process that is fair. And it has done so without regard for partisan interests and concerns that might have been involved in the elections.

Following November's hotly contested presidential race, lawsuits were filed in both the Palm Beach County Circuit Court and the Fourth District Court of Appeal challenging the now-infamous Palm Beach County "butterfly ballot" that disenfranchised thousands of voters. The ACLU also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the Florida Supreme Court ruling that permitted an extension of time for the hand recount of disputed ballots.

Elsewhere, the ACLU filed post-election challenges in Georgia and Illinois on behalf of minority voters who were more likely than others to lose their right to vote because of error-prone voting methods that disproportionately affected people of color.

For more information on the ACLU's challenges on behalf of minority voters, visit our special feature at http://archive.aclu.org/features/f011201a.html.



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