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Challenging The Constitutionality of Florida’s No-Match No-Vote Law

After court-reversal, voting rights advocates challenge constitutionality of Florida’s “No-Match No-Vote Law.” Law could disenfranchise thousands of eligible Florida voters in 2008.

June 5, 2008
For Immediate Release
Tim Bradley, (646) 452–5637

After Court-Reversal, Voting Rights Advocates Challenge Constitutionality of Florida’s No-Match No-Vote Law

Voter Registration Law Could Disenfranchise Thousands of Eligible Florida Voters in 2008

Florida – On Friday, voting rights advocates will go before a federal trial court in Gainesville, Florida to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s “no-match, no-vote” law, a voter registration law that has blocked more than 16,000 eligible Florida citizens from registering to vote and could disenfranchise tens of thousands more from registering and voting in the 2008 elections.

“The trial court must now consider whether disenfranchising thousands of eligible citizens because of election workers’ typos is consistent with the U.S. constitution,” stated Justin Levitt, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, arguing the case on behalf of voter advocates on Friday.

In December 2007, Judge Stephan Mickle, a federal judge in Florida, granted a preliminary injunction to the law, ruling that Florida’s law “makes it harder to vote by imposing a matching requirement that is a barrier to voter registration.”

In prohibiting the state from applying the law, Judge Mickle concluded that Florida’s law “is resulting in actual harm to real individuals” and “causes damage to the election system that cannot be repaired after the election has passed.” If it is not stopped now, he wrote, “even more people will be prohibited from registering to vote” and “the harm to a disenfranchised voter would be impossible to repair.”

The law at issue bars any Florida citizen from registering to vote if the state cannot match or otherwise validate the citizen’s driver’s license or Social Security number, an error-laden practice enjoined in 2006 by a federal judge in Washington State in a similar case. Indeed, citizens showing a federal passport or military ID had been blocked from voting under the Florida law. Plaintiffs have demonstrated that there are several ways the bureaucratic process, embodied in Florida’s state law (Subsection 6 of Section 97.053), would disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters in the 2008 election cycle, especially in trying to match registration forms with Social Security information.

Judge Mickle found that the Florida law would likely conflict with both the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In April, that decision was overturned in a ruling from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, following an appeal by the Florida Secretary of State.

Plaintiffs in the case, Florida NAACP vs. Browning, are now returning to the federal trial court in Florida to challenge the constitutionality of the law, on which the federal trial court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did not issue a ruling.

“This is not the only pending case against Secretary Browning that challenges unnecessary restrictions on the right to register to vote,” said Myrna Pérez, another Brennan Center attorney working on the case. “We hope that Secretary Browning will protect the rights of voters, and organizations that conduct voter registration, and we remain hopeful that we can resolve these cases, in favor of all Florida citizens, well before the upcoming elections.”

The suit was filed in September 2007 by the Florida branch of the NAACP, the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. The plaintiffs are represented by The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law; Advancement Project; Project Vote; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; and Greenberg Traurig LLP.

For more information about the lawsuit challenging Florida’s voter registration system and how voter database matching laws disproportionately affects Latino voters and other minorities, visit the Brennan Center website here.