If I find time, I might start digging a little deeper into patterns of rejected Vote-by-Mail ballots across Florida’s counties…

since it’s something I’ve written about in my report for the @ACLUFL, and since they lie at the heart of Bill Nelson’s Nelson Complaint in federal court challenging invalidated mail ballots due to mismatched signatures.

ICYMI, check out my report for @ACLUFL, “Vote-By-Mail Ballots Cast in Florida”

Check out my report for the ACLU of Florida,  “Vote-By-Mail Ballots Cast in Florida.” Vote-by-mail ballots cast in the 2012 and 2016 general election had a higher rejection rate than votes cast at assigned precincts on Election Day and at early voting sites, and more importantly, younger voters and racial and ethnic minority voters were much more likely to cast mail ballots that were rejected and were less likely to have their ballots cured.

Full report is available here.

Does an amendment to new Florida election bill violate provisions of Voting Rights Act?

Here’s a copy of the SB 600 amendment letter sent to the members of the Florida Senator regarding Sen. Latvala’s effort to restrict election assistance to disabled voters, which very well may violate several provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

It’s signed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Common Cause Florida, Rock the Vote, and the National Congress of Black Women.

Sen. Latvala’s amendment to the pending legislation is available here.

Federal Judge Strikes Down Florida’s Contribution Cap for Minors

Here’s the ACLU’s press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 7, 2012
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363-2737, media@aclufl.org

TAMPA – As a result of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida (ACLU) on behalf of Julie Towbin, a 17-year-old resident of Boca Raton, a federal judge today enjoined enforcement of Florida’s law putting a lower cap on political contributions for minors. In her 36-page opinion, United States District Judge Kathleen M. Williams of the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, states that the law limits minors’ Constitutionally-protected right of Free Speech.

Florida law (statute 106.08(1)(b)(2)) limits donations made by minors to state and local candidates to $100 per candidate per election while adults may contribute up to $500 per candidate per election. Today’s preliminary injunction prevents the state from enforcing the unfair limit set on minors. The ACLU brought the lawsuit on behalf of Towbin in January 2012, asking the Court to declare the law unconstitutional.

“This isn’t just a victory for minors, it’s a victory for the First Amendment,” stated Towbin. “The law violated my constitutional right to engage in political speech and participate in our political process. Today’s ruling means my voice is no longer worth one-fifth of someone else’s.”

Towbin is a recent high school graduate who, in addition to earning money from a job as cashier in a restaurant, earned more than $7,000 as a Congressional House Page in 2011. She keeps her funds in a bank account in her name. She is registered to vote and plans to cast her first ballot in the November 2012 elections, by which point she will be 18.

In September 2011, Towbin wanted to attend a fundraising dinner for the Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee, of which she is a member. But she was told that purchasing a regular $150 ticket to the dinner may be a violation of the $100 limit on contributions by minors. She did not attend the dinner.

Because of her concerns about violating the law by making contributions to local candidates in 2012, Towbin wrote the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, the Palm Beach County State Attorney, the State Attorney General and the Florida Elections Commission which is responsible for hearing potential violations and issuing penalties such as criminal referrals for prosecution and fines. Receiving no assurances that making contributions over $100 would not result in legal penalties, Towbin has not made any such campaign contributions. Because of the injunction, she may now do so without fear of civil or criminal penalties.

“This law put an unconstitutional limit on some citizens’ ability to engage in political activities based solely on their age,” stated Randall C. Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida. “Our laws should encourage everyone regardless of age — and especially young people — to participate in the political process. Instead, this law took away speech and political participation rights to young citizens.”

The Florida law enjoined today applies only to Florida state and local candidates. Federal election rules contain no similar restriction. Even though she is a minor, Towbin may contribute up to $2,500, the same amount allowed for adults, to candidates for federal office such as President or Congress.

“The Constitution does not allow the state to treat speech differently based on who is doing the speaking,” said James K. Green, cooperating attorney in the case. “If the state has a need to limit contributions to a set amount – in this case $500 – the amount needs to be the same for everyone without exception.”

The judge’s order granting preliminary injunction is available here: http://aclufl.org/pdfs/2012-08-07-ACLUTowbinOrderPI.pdf

The judge’s 36-page opinion is available here: http://aclufl.org/pdfs/2012-08-07-ACLUTowbinOpinion.pdf

A copy of the complaint filed by the ACLU of Florida on January 26, 2012 is available here: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/2012-01-26-TwobinComplaint.pdf

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Governor Scott Sued Again: Florida’s Unlawful Dual Election System

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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