State of Florida Sued to Prevent the Disenfranchisement of Thousands of Voters

Joint Press Statement by Advancement Project, AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, People For the American Way Foundation, and Service Employee International Union

Today, we have filed suit in federal court in Miami against Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood and the Broward, Duval, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Palm Beach County Supervisors of Elections to stop the disenfranchisement of thousands of Florida residents caused by the unlawful conduct of state and local officials.

Extensive and tireless efforts have been conducted throughout the state to register new voters. As a result of these efforts, the number of registered voters has reached unprecedented numbers. But the voting rights of many Floridians may be denied because of state officials' failure to process valid voter registration applications or notify applicants in a timely manner that their applications were deemed to be incomplete.

These unlawful practices have a disparate impact on prospective Black and Latino voters. In Miami-Dade County, Blacks comprise more than 35 percent and Latinos more than 25 percent of applications deemed incomplete.

In particular, our action seeks to preserve the voting rights of more than 10,000 Floridians who are eligible to vote and who registered to vote in advance of the October 4 deadline, but whose applications the Supervisors of Elections have refused to process because they have adopted unduly restrictive registration procedures that violate federal election laws.

For example, Line 17 of the Florida voter registration application form contains an oath that states, among other things, "I am a citizen of the U.S." Applicants sign line 17 to affirm the truth of that statement. Line 2 of the application likewise asks applicants to attest to their citizenship status by checking boxes labeled "yes" or "no" next to the question, "Are you a U.S. citizen?" But some County Supervisors refused to process voter registration applications on which the citizenship box on line 2 was not checked, but the affirmation on line 17 was signed.

A review of "incomplete applications" shows that thousands of applications have been impacted. For example, in Broward County, 994 applications are missing a checkmark in the citizenship box although applicants signed an oath stating they are citizens. The state cannot deprive a citizen of the right to vote based on such minor technicalities. In fact, Miami-Dade, Leon and Orange Counties have now changed their position on this issue.

In addition, hundreds of applications have not been processed because applicants did not provide a Florida drivers license number, Florida Identification Card Number, or last four digits of his or her social security number. Yet, these numbers are not used to determine eligibility of voters. They have no purpose at all in the voting process. In Miami-Dade and Broward more than 1,400 and 1,200 people, respectively, are missing only this number.

If that were not bad enough, thousands of Florida residents are also being deprived of their right to vote because they did not check off the corresponding box to affirm that they are not a convicted felon or mentally incapacitated. The rights of these applicants are being denied even though County Supervisors independently determine, as they are legally required to, whether the applicant is or is not a convicted felon or mentally incapacitated. In Miami-Dade County, some 3,052 voter registration applications have not been processed because the felon box was not checked, and approximately 3,552 unprocessed applications do not have the mental capacity box checked.

Due to the large number of registrations and the elections offices' inability to process these applications in a timely fashion, applicants have also been deprived of an opportunity to provide any missing information. The defendants have required that missing information, such as these unnecessary boxes and numbers, be provided by the October 4 th deadline, yet they sent registrants notices too late to make a difference. Many people have yet to receive such a notice.

As Florida's Chief Elections Officer, Secretary Hood has responsibility for coordinating the state's compliance with the National Voter Registration Act and Florida's election laws and ensuring the uniform application and operation of those laws. As such, Secretary Hood is ultimately responsible for the complete and timely processing of valid voter registration applications and liable for the lack of compliance with these requirements.

What we have seen in Florida is one of the most aggressive efforts in the country to deny people their most basic civil right--the right to vote. Tens of thousands of applications are incomplete and languishing in elections offices. The bottom line is this. In a year when voter registration efforts have been vigorous, some registrars have not been able to keep up and they don't want the public to know they are shirking their legal responsibility.

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