Federal Court Orders Florida Officials to Preserve Absentee Ballots Received After Election Day

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
November 4, 2004 12:00 am

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Court Next to Consider Whether to Count Ballots in Final Vote Tally

MIAMI – In response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Florida Legal Services, a federal court has ordered Broward and Miami-Dade elections officials to segregate and preserve all absentee ballots received in the mail after 7 p.m. on Election Day.

“When you’re talking about the fundamental right to vote, even one lost vote is significant,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “This case is about making sure that every person’s vote is counted regardless of how those votes play out in these elections.”

“If we are successful, this lawsuit could have an impact on thousands of people who are in similar situations across Florida and it could change the rules for upcoming elections so that every eligible voter casting an absentee ballot — regardless of whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States — is treated equally under the law,” he added.

In an 11-page ruling released late last night, U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold ordered Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Constance Kaplan to set aside all of the absentee ballots postmarked by November 2. Gold has yet to rule on whether late ballots received after November 2 be included in the final vote tally.

At a hearing later today, Gold will hear from voters and elections officials to consider whether to include the late ballots in the final vote count. He is expected to rule early next week, before the Nov. 12 election certification deadline.

In their lawsuit, the non-partisan groups argue that elections supervisors in Miami-Dade and Broward counties failed to give voters enough time to mail in their absentee ballots, essentially preventing them from voting on Election Day. The groups have asked the court to extend the deadline for the return of absentee ballots to match the deadline for the receipt of overseas absentee ballots, which are added to the final vote counts if they are received within 10 days of the election.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday on behalf of Fay Friedman, who has a second home in Pennsylvania and is registered in Broward, and Adam Meyer, who is a student at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville and is registered in Miami-Dade. Both Friedman and Meyer received their absentee ballots on Election Day, but since both of them live out of town, they were unable to drop off the absentee ballots at the county elections offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Instead, they filled out their ballots and returned them postmarked November 2.

The third plaintiff – University of Central Florida student Daniel Benhaim – is a registered Miami-Dade voter who voted using a federal write-in absentee ballot, which is accepted under state law from overseas voters. He received his absentee ballot on Election Day after mailing the write-in ballot to the Dade elections office.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against Snipes, Kaplan and Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, the state’s chief election official.

The case is Fay Friedman et al v. Brenda Snipes et al. (No: 04-22787). ACLU of Florida attorneys Randall Marshall and JoNel Newman represent all three plaintiffs.

To read a copy of the complaint, go to /node/35087

To read the motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, go to /node/35088

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