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Judge blocks 'prohibitively expensive' fines on voter registration groups

Published: Monday August 28, 2006

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A federal judge in Florida has blocked enforcement of a state law that could have fined voter registration groups hundreds of dollars per ballot, according to a press release by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

At issue in the case, League of Women Voters v. Cobb (case no. 06-21265), was a Florida law, (Fla. Laws 2005-277, Secs. 2 and 7), that would have imposed a mandatory fine of $250 for each and every voter registration form submitted nonpartisan registration drives more than 10 days after the form was collected from a prospective voter, $500 for each registration form submitted after the passing of a registration deadline, and $5,000 for each registration form not submitted, for any reason.

Political parties would have been exempted from the law.

For nonpartisan groups, however, the law included a "strict liability" legal standard, meaning that no extenuating circumstance -- not even destruction of an office by a hurricane -- would have excused the failure to submit a registration form within the law's deadlines.

"This is a win for Florida voters and a reaffirmation of the critical role civic groups play in helping tens of thousands of unregistered citizens come into the process and become voters every year," said Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Plaintiffs had argued that the multiple fines would devastate the budgets of many non-partisan voter registration groups. For example, the entire annual budget for the Florida League of Women Voters is $70,000, the equivalent of just 14 lost registration forms. At the same time, virtually everyone associated with an organization -- from a volunteer canvasser to the organization's board chair -- could be held personally responsible for paying the fines.