Voter Purge Settlement Protects Right to Vote for Florida Voters

Washington, DC – Today, a settlement was announced in the lawsuit initiated by Advancement Project, Fair Elections Legal Network, Project Vote, SEIU Local 1199 and LatinoJustice PRLDEF on behalf of several organizations and two Florida voters against the state of Florida challenging the legality of the voter purge program the state began earlier this year. Under the agreement, the state will reverse the effects of an illegal purge program, which resulted in many eligible voters being purged, and widespread confusion among the voting public.

“It’s imperative that people have clear and ready access to the voting process and this settlement allows that to happen,” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “The voter purge would have simply suppressed citizens’ right to participate in the democratic process, the bulk of them Latino voters. We will continue to be diligent in stopping any attempts to prevent citizens from voting.”

Today’s settlement requires the Florida Department of State to instruct supervisors of elections to reinstate voters who were improperly removed from the rolls, and to inform the more than 2,600 citizens who were sent purge letters that they remain registered and may vote in November. The Department of State also agreed to instruct supervisors of elections that voters may not be denied a regular ballot because their name appeared on the purge list.

“Today is a victory for Florida voters that were improperly purged from the voter rolls or intimidated by a threatening letter that required them to prove their citizenship or lose their right to vote,” Ben Hovland, senior counsel for the Fair Elections Legal Network. “Florida’s faulty purge program has exemplified the risks posed to citizens’ right to vote by sloppy list matching programs. Hopefully this settlement will ensure that all eligible Florida voters that want to cast a ballot this November will be able to.”

The state has chosen to characterize these steps as ones it had already planned to take. That is not correct. It is only as a result of this litigation that the state has committed to take these steps.

“This is a major victory for democracy in our state,” said Monica Russo, executive vice president of 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East of Fla. "Two of our members, including Melande Antoine, courageously stood up for the hundreds of thousands of naturalized citizens registered to vote in Florida by fighting for the American Dream, and a citizen’s basic right to vote regardless of race, color or creed. A citizen is a citizen, there should not be any difference.”

“This settlement ensures that thousands of eligible Florida residents—many of whom are minority voters and new citizens—will not be wrongfully turned away when they show up on November 6th seeking to do their duty as citizens in our democracy,” says Catherine Flanagan, director of the Election Administration Program for Project Vote. “We hope this suit will deter Florida from trampling on the voting rights of its residents in the future.” The lawsuit—brought on behalf of two individual voters and several organizational plaintiffs—challenged the legality of the program under the Voting Rights Act (VRA)—which prohibits such activities that have a discriminatory impact—and under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which prohibits list maintenance programs within 90 days of a federal election or primary.

“This settlement represents a historic milestone for voting rights in Florida,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “It will ensure that naturalized citizens, the majority of whom are Latino, black and Asian, have the same opportunities as all Americans to participate in our political process and exercise the most fundamental right in our democracy—the right to vote. The Secretary of State has agreed to abandon its practice of forcing naturalized citizens to prove their citizenship, and that is a victory for all us.”

Jenner & Block, the Campaign Legal Center, and the Law Offices of Chavez & De Leon, P.A. served as pro bono counsel in the lawsuit.

Contact:

John Garcia, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, jgarcia@latinojustice.org, 212-739-7513

Josh Spaulding, (202) 248-5347, jspaulding@fairelectionsnetwork.com

Michael McDunnah, Project Vote, mmcdunnah@projectvote.org, 202-905-1397

Leila McDowell, Advancement Project, lmcdowell@advancementproject.org, 202-306-7947

Jose Suarez, 1199SEIU HCE of Fla., jose.suarez@1199.org, 305.340.1085

The settlement: http://www.latinojustice.org/briefing_room/press_releases/Florida_Agreement_091212.pdf

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