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Voting Rights Advocates to Defend Federal Court Decision to Block Florida Registration Law

In appeals challenge, advocates seek to affirm court ruling that Florida’s “no match, no vote” law denies right to vote and would cause unjustified and irreparable narm.

January 17, 2008
For Immediate Release: Thursday, January 17, 2008

Contact: Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, 646–452–5637


Voting Rights Advocates to Defend Federal Court Decision to Block Florida Registration Law

In Appeals Challenge, Advocates Seek to Affirm Court Ruling that Florida’s “No Match, No Vote” Law Denies Right to Vote and Would Cause Unjustified and Irreparable Harm

Atlanta – On Friday at 11AM, voting rights advocates will defend a challenge to a federal court’s December ruling that blocked a Florida law disenfranchising more than 14,000 voters, and poised to block many more eligible citizens from the rolls.

The preliminary injunction granted by Judge Stephan Mickle will be appealed Friday by the Florida Secretary of State in the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta. Voting rights advocates will seek to have the Court of Appeals affirm the earlier ruling by the District Court in order to prevent thousands of eligible voters from being disenfranchised, and to ensure that the state and county registrars can continue to register eligible Floridians, without undue bureaucratic hurdles, in the weeks and months ahead. Arguing the case for the advocates will be Justin Levitt, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the author of Making the List: Database Matching and Verification Processes for Voter Registration.

Florida’s law, which plaintiffs challenged in September, bars any Florida citizen from registering to vote if the state cannot match or otherwise validate the driver’s license or Social Security number on a registration form. A similar error-laden matching precondition was also blocked in 2006 by a federal court in Washington State.

Plaintiffs demonstrated in December that there are several ways that common administrative mistakes 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”.

Advocates also demonstrated that the blocked Florida law had a disproportionate effect on Latino citizens, who may 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.

Judge Stephan Mickle concluded in Florida federal court in December that 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.”

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.