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Federal Judge Blocks Florida Registration Law

Court rules that Florida’s “No Match, No Vote” law denies right to vote and would cause unjustified and irreparable harm. US District Court judge issues preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of law that currently blocks at least 14,000 eligible Florida citizens from registering to vote.

December 19, 2007

For Immediate Release
December 18, 2007

Contact Information:
Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, (646) 452–5637
Justin Levitt, Brennan Center for Justice, (323) 284–8302
Sabrina Williams, Advancement Project, (202) 728–9557
Brian Mellor, Project Vote, (617) 282–3666

Federal Judge Blocks Florida Registration Law

Court Rules that Florida’s “No Match, No Vote” Law Denies Right to Vote and Would Cause Unjustified and Irreparable Harm

FLORIDA - Today voting rights advocates celebrated the decision of a US District Court judge to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the enforcement of an unjustified and controversial statewide election law.  The law currently blocks at least 14,000 eligible Florida citizens from registering to vote, and would likely have disenfranchised tens of thousands more from registering and voting in the 2008 elections.

“We’re pleased that the court has removed an undue barrier standing in the way of real Florida voters for the upcoming elections,” said Justin Levitt, Counsel at the Brennan Center and author of Making the List: Database Matching and Verification Processes for Voter Registration. ”Florida’s law would have prevented thousands of eligible citizens from registering.  The court recognized that this law is in direct conflict with federal laws designed after the 2000 election debacle to make sure every eligible citizen can have their vote counted," stated Levitt.

The law at issue imposed unreasonable and illegal barriers to Florida citizens when  registering to vote if the state could not match or otherwise validate the driver’s license or Social Security number on a registration form.  This error-laden matching precondition was also blocked in 2006 by a federal court in Washington State.

Plaintiffs demonstrated that there are several ways the bureaucratic process, embodied in Florida’s state election law, would have disenfranchised eligible voters in the 2008 election cycle, especially when trying to match registration forms with Social Security information. A citizen registering as “Bill” might not “match” if his Social Security number is issued under “William”; a woman’s married name might not match against a database that has her maiden name. Common data entry errors also cause matches to fail. According to court documents, one man was barred from the rolls when his name was mistakenly entered into the system as “Joseph” instead of “Jose.”

Judge Stephan Mickle concluded it was likely that the law would cause serious injury to the voting rights of thousands of citizens, noting evidence that the matching requirement “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.”

”This is a tremendous victory for all Florida voters," said Myrna Pérez, Counsel at the Brennan Center. “This will enable people who have been kept off the rolls to participate in our democratic process.”  Advocates were especially concerned that Florida’s voter law would have had a disproportionate effect on Latino citizens, who use maternal and paternal surnames that may be entered differently in different databases. Gael García Bernal, for example, if listed in one system with “Bernal” as a last name and in another system with “García Bernal” as a last name, would have been affected by the law.

The suit was filed by the Florida branch of the NAACP, the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.  The plaintiffs were 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.