Pre-election lawsuits soaring

The election isn’t quite here yet, but in Florida they already are having numerous lawsuits in connection with the vote. These actions charge the state and county election supervisors with voter disenfranchisement, which is likely to become a major legal problem.

The Florida Supreme Court last week heard arguments in a lawsuit aimed at requiring election officials to count provisional ballots—those cast by voters whose names are not on the precinct rolls—regardless of where the ballots are cast. (The New York Times)

Also, last week, labor unions and voting-rights groups sued to halt the disqualifying of more than 10,000 incomplete registration forms in the Sunshine State. The lawsuit charges the state with unusually severe and restrictive rules that tend to disenfranchise minority voters.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Miami. It results from a recommendation by the Florida Secretary of State that officials should toss out all forms in which the registrant failed to check a box stating they are American citizens, even if they signed the oath at the bottom, swearing they are citizens.

Still another lawsuit aims at determining how counties with touch-screen voting machines should carry out manual recounts. Plaintiffs in that suit met with aides of Secretary of State Glenda Hood to discuss the matter. Florida had banned recounts in those counties, but an administrative law judge tossed out that rule in August following a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

Susan MacManus, political science professor at the University of South Florida, said: “The 2000 election signaled the era of lawsuits in elections, and it’s escalated markedly not just in Florida, but everywhere. Both parties are playing the pre-emption game as much as the reactive game this time out.”

A spokesman for Hood charged the lawsuits are politically motivated and are eroding voter confidence. “They are questioning every single law that we are following and that we are complying with, federal or state,” said Alia Faraj. “I think it’s inappropriate for them to be doing this at the 11th hour.”

Although some registrants prepared their forms before the Oct. 4 deadline, election officials did not process them until later in many instances and did not let the affected registrants know their forms were flawed. The particular lawsuit about the forms charges Hood and election supervisors in Broward, Duval, Miami-Dade and Orange counties with violating federal law. The plaintiff groups—which include People for the American Way, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the AFL-CIO—registered thousands of new Florida voters in recent months and often urged them to vote Democratic.

The complaint states more than a third of voters who indicated their race on incomplete forms in Broward and Miami-Dade counties are black, though blacks are only 17 percent of the electorate in Broward and 20 percent in Miami-Dade.

The Florida Democratic Party filed another lawsuit last week which said far more potential voters failed to check other boxes on the form. Some 3,050 applicants in Miami-Dade did not check a box stating they are not convicted felons, and another 3,550 left blank a box indicating they had not been found mentally incompetent, and so were disqualified.

Plaintiffs in this lawsuit contend checking the boxes is not a legal requirement for registration. Some election officials said the forms came chiefly from Democratic advocacy groups, which turned in box after box of forms at the last minute.

Professor MacManus said since the flood of lawsuits comes so close to election day it is impossible to predict what effect they will have.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!