Agreement Will Protect Rights of Black Voters Disenfranchised in November 2000 Presidential Election
People For the American Way Foundation and several other civil rights groups joined with state agencies and other defendants to file a settlement agreement yesterday in their lawsuit against the state of Florida and several Florida counties on behalf of the NAACP and black voters in the state. The suit sought to address the denial of voting rights to black citizens of Florida during the 2000 general election. The settlement includes the restoration of voting rights to citizens erroneously purged from the rolls before the 2000 election and better statewide maintenance of uniformity in election day procedures and voter registration processing. The agreement was announced in a joint statement released yesterday.
"This settlement goes a long way to ensure that we will not see a repeat of November 2000 in Florida," said PFAWF President Ralph G. Neas. "The comprehensive relief outlined in this settlement agreement exceeds the reforms Florida has already passed and, when fully implemented, should help restore the confidence of voters in future elections."
Thousands of eligible voters were removed from the voter rolls prior to the 2000 election because purge lists were created with broad, unspecific criteria. The settlement calls for voters erroneously removed to be restored to the voter rolls. The agreement also stipulates that more accuracy is used in the maintenance of the voter list in the future, to prevent wrongful purges in the future.
"The old system of voter list maintenance threatened the rights of qualified, eligible voters by allowing the possibility of inaccurate and overly broad purges," said PFAWF Vice President and Legal Director Elliot Mincberg. "With these new stipulations in place, the protection for every citizen's right to vote is strengthened."
The suit named several defendants. Some, including several counties and the contractor who generated the purge lists, settled earlier this year. Two defendants, the Florida Secretary of State and Director of Division of Elections, agreed to more accurate list maintenance standards and the restoration of voter rights to purged voters mentioned above. They also agreed to promote greater statewide uniformity in election day procedures and the provision of alternative voting methods including voting by affirmation and provisional voting. They also agreed to create a state position to monitor and coordinate state agencies in their duties to provide voter registration as well as to help ensure that counties maintain voter lists in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner. "The voters of Florida are the winners today," said Neas.
The settlement also included two agencies who have voter registration duties under the National Voter Registration Act. These two agencies, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) and the Department of Children and Families (DCF), agreed to reform their procedures and more closely attend to their voter registration responsibilities. DCF also agreed to provide receipts to clients indicating their voter registration choice as well as create an electronic database of voter registration choices for monitoring purposes, and to transmit voter registration applications more promptly to registrars. DHSMV also pledged to increase awareness with their customers about the opportunities for voter registration at their offices.
The two remaining counties in the case (Orange and Hillsborough) also settled with the plaintiffs yesterday, and both agreed to key reforms that will enhance the rights of voters in these jurisdictions.
"The defendants have agreed to restore and protect voting rights, and the remedies in this settlement are clear," said Mincberg. "However, if voting rights are again threatened in Florida, we can enforce this agreement by returning to court, if necessary."
The reforms agreed to by the plaintiffs and the defendants in the case should be in effect by the next presidential contest in Florida. The suit was brought on behalf of the Florida branches of the NAACP and black Florida voters who unable to vote in the 2000 election. They were represented by a team of lawyers from the NAACP, People For the American Way Foundation, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Miami law firm of Williams and Associates, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the Advancement Project, and the ACLU Foundation.