Civil Rights Groups Asks Florida Supreme Court to Strike Down Provisional Balloting Restrictions

October 8, 2004

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Florida's election law restricting the use of provisional ballots is an unconstitutional violation of the right to vote, said the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Advancement Project and People for the American Way, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief today asking the Florida Supreme Court to strike down a Florida statute that requires elections officials to throw out provisional ballots cast by voters in the wrong precincts.

"Florida's provisional balloting scheme is yet another mechanism that tramples on the right to vote," said ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard L. Simon. "It gives voters a false sense of security by allowing them to cast ballots that will be thrown straight in the trash if they are standing in the wrong precinct location."

Provisional ballots will be available at precincts statewide for voters who can't find their names listed at the polls or who are told they aren't eligible to vote. But Section 101.048 of the Florida Statutes requires the state to discard as "illegal" the provisional ballots of otherwise eligible voters who cast them in a precinct other than the one assigned by elections officials.

The three civil rights groups filed today's brief in support of a lawsuit filed in August by several statewide unions. The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments in this case at 9 a.m. Wednesday, October 13.

The groups argue the Florida statute limiting the use of provisional ballots violates the Florida Constitution because it disfranchises voters who are fully qualified to vote based on whether or not they're standing in the right precinct. Since there are some polling places that include more than one precinct, one likely scenario cited in today's brief is that a voter at the right polling place could have her provisional ballot rejected if she was standing on the wrong side of the room.

According to the brief, a major source of complaints from voters during the August 31, 2004 primary election dealt with polling place locations. In addition, the problem will only be exacerbated on Nov. 2 because there have been substantial changes in both the numbers and locations of precincts in Escambia County and other areas hardest hit by hurricanes. Populations changes in Miami-Dade and Broward also mean significant changes in precinct locations, further assuring that some qualified voters will have their ballots "rejected as illegal."

"Voters in Florida need to know that their votes will be counted on Election Day," said Reggie Mitchell, spokesperson for People For the American Way Foundation. "If these problems aren't corrected, voters' mistrust will only increase and threaten the sustainability of the Florida's electoral system."

Florida lawmakers adopted the provision requiring elections officials to toss ballots cast in the wrong precincts during the 2001 Legislative Session. Several states passed similar laws restricting access to provisional ballots.

Today's brief is available online at: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/Legal%20PDfs/ProvisionalBallotAmicus.pdf

The motion to file an amicus brief is online at: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/Legal%20PDfs/ProvisionalBallotMotion.pdf

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