ACLU-FL Voting Report

Florida is no stranger to election-year issues . . . If it happens in Florida, it's likely a problem in other places; and if it happens somewhere else, it has probably already occurred in the Sunshine State. That may not be our state motto, but it has held true like clockwork every two years.

Timeline of Voting Issues

Butterfly ballots and hanging chads in 2000, voting technology breakdowns in 2002, 2004 and 2006, laws and policies that disqualify voters and suppress the vote, ex-felon disfranchisement, voter registration problems -- these are just a few of the hot-button issues that plague Florida.

Let's back up to 2000, when then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Gov. Jeb Bush retained a contractor to create a felon purge list. Despite being warned by the private company that the list was not reliable, approximately 57,000 citizens were purged from the voter rolls because their names were similar to those of people with a prior felony conviction. This felon purge list has been described as one of the greatest voting-related controversies in Florida. Undaunted by disfranchisement caused by the 2000 purge list, the Jeb Bush Administration again attempted to implement a flawed felon purge list in 2004. The administration was forced to abandon it, however, when investigations revealed that it included people who did not have felony convictions or whose rights had been restored.

In 2000 and 2004 African-Americans were disproportionately affected. The 2004 list of close to 48,000 voters included only 61 people with Hispanic surnames, but close to 22,000 African-Americans.

Now, in 2008, we have new problems facing us. Voters in Florida's fifteen most populous counties are voting on the third new voting technology in as many presidential elections. From punch cards in 2000 to the faulty paperless electronic voting machines in 2004, voters in these counties will now cast their ballot using optical scan machines, which will hopefully provide for a more accurate vote and a meaningful recount if necessary. The reality is that as long as there are humans involved, there will be no perfect voting system, but ample and well-trained poll workers can go a long way in protecting everyone's right to vote.

Voter Registration Issues | Early Voting | Rights Restoration

Florida has seen unprecedented new registrations this year, and the process became more difficult for thousands of Floridians due to the new "no match" law, which Sec. Browning began enforcing on September 8, 2008. The law requires a match between the driver's license number, Florida identification number ("Florida ID"), or the last four digits of their Social Security number entered on the voter registration application with a record in the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles or Social Security Administration databases. A "no match" could even be due to a clerk's data-entry error. Despite pressure from ACLU members and other civil rights activists, Sec. Browning still insists on enforcing the law. Sec. Browning also continues to insist that voters cannot verify their registration information when they come to the polls to vote. This is contrary to the advice that an attorney for the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections gave county elections supervisors -- that the law allows for verification at the time the voter comes to the polls to vote, and does not require the voter to have any subsequent contact with the elections supervisor.

Unprecedented registrations go hand in hand with unprecedented turnout at the polls, which will include record numbers of first-time voters. Extraordinary lines are already being reported at polls in the first week of early voting -- up to three and a half hours at some early voting sites. We urge all Floridians to vote by mail or during early voting to avoid potential problems at the polls on Election Day. The delays at the polls are exacerbated by extremely long and confusing ballot measures in many counties, and six complex proposed constitutional amendments.

ACLU TIP: One way you can avoid problems and additional delays when you arrive at the polls is to know the issues ahead of time, and fill out a sample ballot to expedite the voting process and ensure you are voting the way you desire.

Of course, we can't talk about voting in Florida without discussing the perennial voting issue that the ACLU has worked on for over seven years: Restoration of Civil Rights for ex-offenders who have completed all non-monetary terms of their sentence. Although the process has been expedited for some individuals since April 2007, there is much left to be done to eliminate this Reconstruction-era civil rights ban in Florida.

Read more on rights restoration, Florida's "no match" law and voting technology in our recent post.

2008 Voter Empowerment Cards Hit the Streets in Florida

One of the best ways to ensure that you don't have problems when you go to the poll is to be a well-informed voter. We all need to know the issues and candidates, but equally important is to know your rights as a voter. The ACLU of Florida's Voter Empowerment Card has all the information you need to empower yourself at the polls this year.

The Voter Empowerment Card has information on identification voters must show at the polls (there are nine acceptable forms of ID), how to deal with a challenge at the polls, how to vote early or by mail, what to do if you encounter problems at the polls and more importantly, how to avoid problems at the polls, among other useful information.

Over 40,000 cards have been distributed throughout Florida in English, Spanish and Creole, and you can download a PDF version here.

Provisional Ballots

Florida law is overly restrictive because provisional ballots are rejected if they are cast on Election Day in the wrong precinct. The law is particularly draconian since it means that a voter's selections on countywide, statewide or national issues/candidates are rejected. This statute should be revised so that voters' choices on provisional ballots for county and statewide candidates and constitutional amendments as well as national candidates are counted, regardless of whether the provisional ballot is cast in the correct precinct.

Voter Challenges

Florida law was recently amended to make it easier for a voter to be challenged, by increasing the challenge period to 30 days before an election. Also, Florida law does not establish an adequate threshold for evaluating the sufficiency of the challenge. (The law only says that the challenger must sign an oath describing the basis for the challenge, and the challenge cannot be frivolous.) Florida law should be amended to: (a) require that each Supervisor of Elections evaluate the sufficiency of the challenge before the voter is required to vote a provisional ballot, and (b) allow the voter to vote a regular ballot if the challenge is determined to be insufficient.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights