For Immediate Release
Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, (646) 452-5637
Wendy Weiser, Brennan Center For Justice, (212) 998-6130
Nonpartisan Civic Groups Urge Florida Secretary of State to Adhere to Court's Limits on Prohibitive Fines and Penalties
Miami, FL – Following a federal court's recent ruling that narrowed Florida's voter registration law, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Florida AFL-CIO, and voting rights advocates announced today their intention to continue voter registration drives though the 2008 election. The groups said the ruling reduces the possibility that the law would expose voter registration groups and their volunteers to debilitating fines in the course of voter registration drives.
"We believe that Judge Altonaga's decision in LWVF v. Browning has narrowed the voter registration law enough to allow plaintiffs to continue voter registration drives without fear of being subject to excessive fines. Assuming the Secretary of State follows the judge's decision, we are optimistic that it will resolve the most serious problems with the law," stated Wendy Weiser, Director of Voting Rights and Elections at the Brennan Center for Justice and one of the attorneys in the case.
The League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida AFL-CIO sued to enjoin enforcement of the law in April because its strict deadlines and fines created a serious chilling effect and threatened to dampen turnout in November. Plaintiffs were also concerned that the law would disproportionately burden African-American and Hispanic voter applicants and applicants from Spanish-speaking households—who are twice as likely to register to vote through voter registration drives as white applicants or applicants from English-speaking households.
Concerned that the law made voter registration too risky, the League of Women Voters of Florida placed a moratorium on all voter registration efforts, to begin as soon as the law became enforceable. The Florida AFL-CIO similarly announced its intention to cease its voter registration drives, as did other civic groups.
While the judge in LWVF v. Browning formally denied plaintiffs' request for an injunction to stop the law, she did so based on an interpretation of the law that imposes tighter limits on the amount that organizations and individuals involved in voter registration activities could be fined.
"Compared to the virtually unlimited fines groups like ours were potentially liable for before the court's ruling, we feel some degree of relief that we will be able to continue voter registration activities in this election cycle if the Secretary of State follows the judge's decision," said Marilynn Wills, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida and a plaintiff in the suit.
"In order to continue our voter registration drives, plaintiffs request that the Secretary of State confirm that his office will follow the judge's interpretation of the law and will not act to shut down voter registration drives with prohibitive fines," said Marilynn Wills.
"We hope that the Secretary of State will be faithful to the judge's decision so that voter registration drives can continue in this election season," added Cynthia Hall, president of the Florida AFL-CIO.
Despite the narrowing of potential liability, plaintiffs still urge the Florida legislature to repeal the law.
"Florida's law still needlessly subjects well-meaning civic groups to fines and unfair provisions as they seek to help the state's citizens register to vote," said Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, former president of the League of Women Voters of Florida and current board member of the League of Women Voters of the United States. "We still believe that the law's fines create an unfair tax on democracy and urge the state legislature to change the law."
In wake of the U.S. District Court's ruling, Florida's voter registration law may be enforced after the adoption of final rules regarding application of the law pursuant to an ongoing administrative rulemaking process. Final rules cannot be issued until at least 28 days after the Secretary of State issues draft rules, which could happen later this month. After the plaintiffs filed suit, the Secretary of State consented to an order barring enforcement of the law until after the adoption of final rules.
"Florida's civic groups should be reassured to know that the law is not yet being enforced and that, once it is, they will no longer have to fear prohibitively large fines if the Secretary of State follows the judge's decision," said Elizabeth Westfall of the Advancement Project and one of the attorneys in the case.
Plaintiffs are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the Advancement Project, and by pro bono counsel Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and Stack Fernandez Anderson & Harris.The original complaint can be viewed here.