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Brennan Center Urges Justice Department to Reject Florida’s Revised Voter Registration Law

September 7, 2007

For Immediate Release:  
September 7, 2007

Renée Paradis, 212–992–8162
Mike Webb, 917–660–1846


Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, along with the Advancement Project, asked the U.S. Department of Justice not to approve Florida’s revised law on voter registration drives because the new provisions unduly harm the state’s minority communities and violate the Voting Rights Act.

Last year, in League of Women Voters of Florida v. Cobb, the state’s restrictions on voter registration drives were declared unconstitutional.  After the ruling, the Florida state legislature went back and reenacted the law with slight changes.  The revised law is now awaiting approval from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and the Brennan Center urges the DOJ to reject this unconstitutional law.

“Black and Hispanic voters and people from Spanish-speaking households are twice as likely to register to vote through these third-party voter registration drives than white voters or voters from English-speaking households,” said Renée Paradis, Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program.  “By making it difficult to conduct voter registration drives, Florida reduces the electoral participation of eligible voters from communities protected under the Voting Rights Act.”

The Voting Rights Act requires states to obtain “preclearance” of a voting law before it can go into effect.  Florida is not entitled to preclearance unless the law leaves protected minorities no worse off than they would have been without the law.  In recent years, the DOJ’s Voting Rights Section has been criticized for what some perceive as politicized preclearance decisions.  For instance, in 2005, the first version of the Georgia voter ID bill was precleared despite the recommendation of a majority of the Voting Rights staff who worked on it, who found the law’s strict requirements would have a clear retrogressive effect on the rights of black voters.  That version was later found unconstitutional by both state and federal courts.

Florida’s new law will impose escalating penalties on voter registration groups that do not file new registrant’s forms within a limited time frame.  The rules also hold organizations liable for innocent mistakes, a third party’s malicious acts (including those of disgruntled employees or political opponents), and potentially even the state’s mishandling or loss of applications.  After the original registration law went into effect in 2006, the League of Women Voters of Florida stopped registering voters for the first time in its 67-year history.  The AFL-CIO and SEIU also ceased their registration efforts.

The letter to the DOJ explains that the revised law still could force organizations to cease or restrict their voter registration drives, which would disproportionately affect black, Hispanic, and Spanish-speaking voters.  The DOJ is expected to rule on the request for preclearance in the coming weeks.

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Read the Center’s letter to the Justice Department here.