Voting Rights Watch: Haitian activists decry Florida Voter ID Law

Haitian grassroots activists in Florida are denouncing a new Florida election rule that will force residents to present identification that matches a state or federal database in order to register to vote. Facing South has previously reported on Florida's controversial decision to enforce a "no match, no vote" rule, which will bar prospective voters if their names and addresses don't exactly match those on the voter roll.

Immigration activists say this law could disenfranchise thousands of votes in the state, particularly among immigrants and minority voters. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy and law institute, the law previously blocked more than 16,000 eligible Florida citizens from registering to vote, through no fault of their own, and could disenfranchise tens of thousands more voters in November.

"One of the big concerns we had was how they were taking people off the voting rolls," Carline Paul, second vice chair of the Miami-based Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, told CaribWorldNews. Opponents argue that ID law databases are error-prone, particularly when it comes to minorities, who often have last names that may not have been recorded accurately in government files.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the "no match, no vote" law poses the latest obstacle to eligible Florida voters seeking to register before the 2008 elections. The Brennan Center was a part of a lawsuit that tackled the law, and they describe it here:

In June, a federal trial court in Gainesville, Florida, refused to stop the "no-match, no-vote" law in Florida NAACP vs. Browning after challenges from several voter advocacy organizations. The case was filed in September 2007 by the Florida branch of the NAACP, the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

In December 2007, the Gainesville federal court granted a preliminary injunction against the no-match, no-vote law under two federal statutes, ruling that Florida's law "makes it harder to vote by imposing a matching requirement that is a barrier to voter registration." The ruling's criticism of the no match, no vote law prompted the state legislature to revise portions of the statute -- eliminating untenable distinctions between typos made by voters and those made by election officials, and standardizing the notice sent to voters kept off the rolls. Still, voting rights advocates argue that the law's core burdens remain.

In April, the trial court's original decision was overturned in split decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, following an appeal by the Florida Secretary of State. Plaintiffs in the case returned to the federal trial court to challenge the amended law under the federal constitution, but on remand, the court refused to enjoin the law, citing the changes that the legislature had made to the statute.

For more information about the lawsuit challenging Florida's voter registration system and how voter database matching laws disproportionately affects Latino voters and other minorities, visit the Brennan Center website here.