Archives for category: Brennan Center

As I’ve written before, the state of Florida is operating under a dual electoral system.

This is clearly unconstitutional, and yet the state conducted its 2012 Presidential Preference Primary under two sets of electoral laws.

Now enter the ACLU, State Senator Arthenia Joyner, and the National Council of La Raza, who on June 29th filed this petition with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. The case is to be heard by an Administrative Law Judge.

Below is their joint press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 2, 2012
4:30 PM

CONTACT: ACLU, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, and National Council of La Raza

Media Office,(786) 363-2720 or media@aclufl.org

ACLU, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, National Council of La Raza, File Legal Challenge over Florida’s Illegal Dual System of Elections

MIAMI – July 2 – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, along with State Senator Arthenia Joyner, and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) filed an administrative petition against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner challenging his implementation of a dual election system involving restrictive changes in election procedures adopted by the Florida Legislature in 2011. Along with the ACLU of Florida, petitioners are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Currently, the State of Florida is operating an unlawful dual system of elections in violation of the state “Uniformity Statute.”  Sixty-two Florida counties are enforcing restrictive 2011 changes to the Florida election code. However, the previous law still applies in the five counties that are “covered” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) while the state awaits a federal court decision on whether the 2011 changes violate Section 5.

“Gov. Scott’s insistence that the state go forward with two different sets of voting laws and procedures in different counties not only violates Florida law requiring uniform elections throughout the state, it is a recipe for chaos and another embarrassment for our state,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.  “The Governor’s insistence that the state can push the Voting Rights Act aside and not wait for approval from either the Department of Justice or the federal courts, is the clearest indication yet of his agenda to trample on the voting rights of the people of Florida.”

In 2011, the Florida legislature passed a law, referred to by many as the “Voter Suppression Act,” which included changes that make it more difficult for individuals to register to vote, reduce the number of days of early voting, specifically ban early voting on the Sunday prior to Election Day, and increase the odds that Florida voters will be required to cast provisional ballots. In the 2008 Presidential Election less than half of provisional ballots cast in Florida were counted. As required by Section 5 of the VRA, Florida must submit any changes to elections laws to the federal government for “preclearance” to ensure that they do not violate the voting rights of minorities in the five covered counties.  While many provisions of the 2011 law have received Section 5 preclearance, the restrictive portions have not.

Contrary to past practice and state law, and even though the restrictive portions of the 2011 law are not in effect in the five covered counties, Florida ordered elections officials to go forward with implementing the 2011 restrictive changes in the remaining 62 of the State’s 67 counties, while the five counties triggering the VRA review continue operating under the pre-2011 elections code. This has created a confusing and non-uniform election system across Florida.

“The petitioners are asking simply that Florida abide by state law which requires that the same voting rules apply throughout the State,” said Robert Kengle, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project.  “The State is failing to apply the state Uniformity Statute in the same way it applied it in the past.”

This administrative challenge is one of several ongoing legal challenges to recent elections changes in Florida. Besides the ongoing preclearance review of the Voter Suppression Act now pending before a three judge federal panel in Washington DC, on May 31st of this year, a federal court in Tallahassee blocked enforcement of key provisions of the 2011 law’s restrictions on civic groups who conduct voter registration drives. In the last month, three different lawsuits, including one filed by the ACLU of Florida and the Lawyers’ Committee and one filed by the United States Justice Department, challenged the state’s “voter purge,” which disproportionately targets minorities and requires United States citizens to re-prove their citizenship or have their names purged from the voter rolls.

“Florida has repeatedly passed laws, and taken administrative actions, that make it harder for eligible citizens to vote,” said Diana Kasdan, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “These restrictions, and others across the country, represent the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades. Rather than erecting senseless barriers to voting, we should make our voting system work for all Americans by modernizing voter registration.”

The petition was filed on Friday, June 29th, with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings and will be heard and decided by an Administrative Law Judge to be assigned by the Division. The Washington D.C. office of the Bryan Cave Law firm and Mark Herron of Messer Caparello & Self of Tallahassee are also providing pro bono legal counsel in the case.

A copy of the petition with attached exhibits is available here: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/2012-06-29-UniformityPetition.pdf

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Last week, the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, denied a complaint by Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning  challenging sections of the Voting Rights Act.  The Florida Secretary of State was seeking an expedited hearing on whether HB1355, Florida’s controversial legislation overhauling voting rights and election administration in the state, complied with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal preclearance for five Florida counties (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe).  Secretary of State Browning is requesting that the federal district court approve portions of the new law–specifically third party voter registration, out-of-­county address changes, petition signature verification, and early voting–rather than waiting for US Department of Justice’s preclearance.

Although on hold for the five counties awaiting US Justice Department preclearance, the Florida Division of Elections has been working with the Supervisors of Elections in the remaining 62 counties not covered by Section 5 of the VRA to implement the many new provisions under HB1355 (Chapter 2011-40) in anticipation of the January 31 Presidential Preference Primary.

However, under Florida law, the state must provide uniform standards for the proper and equitable implementation of the voter registration laws. It is the responsibility of the Florida Secretary of State, as unambiguously stated on the Florida Division of Elections website, “to ensure statewide uniformity in the interpretation of the election laws.”

But the uneven implementation of HB1355 continues, unabated.

Clearly, Florida’s dual election system is not treating all Floridians the same.  As the Brennan Center noted back in June:

  • The new voter registration regulations would be in force in some counties but not others, unfairly and unlawfully creating two separate sets of rules governing voter registration in different parts of the state.
  • Some counties would unfairly be left with a dramatically shorter early voting period than others, as the new law cuts the opportunity for early voting to fourteen days to eight
  • Floridians who moved recently would have varying difficulty voting depending on their new county of residence, as implementation of the new law would end Florida’s longstanding policy of allowing citizens who have recently moved to easily change their registration address on Election Day and vote normally at their poll site.

In denying the state’s request for an expedited hearing and decision, the federal district court’s decision to wait until May to hear oral arguments has virtually assured that the January 31 PPP will be conducted with two sets of election laws, which directly conflicts with existing Florida statutes. But of course, the blame doesn’t lie at the feet of the federal district court. It lies at the feet of the Republican-controlled legislature and the Office of the Secretary of State, who has a constituency of one: Governor Scott.

Again, the Brennan Center in a letter to Secretary Browning on behalf of several voting rights advocacy groups, nails it:

Under Florida statute § 97.012 and prior advisory opinions by the Division, the Secretary of State has a duty to ensure uniformity in the application, operation, and interpretation of the state’s election laws. Applying HB 1355’s extensive changes to the voting and voter registration process only in certain counties, but not in the five counties for which preclearance is required under the federal Voting Rights Act before implementing voting changes, clearly conflicts with this legal mandate.

We therefore request that you immediately advise all Supervisors of Elections that the provisions of H.B. 1355 are unenforceable until they can be applied uniformly in all Florida counties, as state law requires.

Of course, uneven implementation of voting and election laws also violates federal law.  In 2002, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). HAVA was Congress’s effort to clean up the mess in Florida resulting from the 2000 presidential recount.  In order for Florida and other states to receive the billions of dollars appropriated to improve the electoral process, state elections officials were required to implement numerous reforms mandated under HAVA.

Among its many provisions, HAVA requires that the states  “implement in a uniform and nondiscriminatory manner, a single, uniform, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list defined, maintained, and administered at the state level.” By most all accounts, Florida achieved by the January 1, 2006 federal deadline, with the Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS).  The implementation of HB1355 in 62 counties, but not the other 5, is clearly in violation of HAVA.

Bush v. Gore may be dead (or at least dormant), but Florida’s Dual Election System may breathe some new life into it.

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