League of Women Voters and AFL-CIO Announce Intention to Continue Voter Registration After Ruling

August 21, 2008

For
Immediate Release

Contact:
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.