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FL Supreme Court hears arguments in provisional ballot dispute

[JURIST] Florida's Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday on the validity of the state's provisional ballot law, Section 101.048 of the Florida Statutes, which reads in its material parts:

101.048 Provisional ballots.--

(1) At all elections, a voter claiming to be properly registered in the county and eligible to vote at the precinct in the election, but whose eligibility cannot be determined, and other persons specified in the code shall be entitled to vote a provisional ballot. Once voted, the provisional ballot shall be placed in a secrecy envelope and thereafter sealed in a provisional ballot envelope. The provisional ballot shall be deposited in a ballot box. All provisional ballots shall remain sealed in their envelopes for return to the supervisor of elections. The department shall prescribe the form of the provisional ballot envelope.

(2)(a) The county canvassing board shall examine each provisional ballot envelope to determine if the person voting that ballot was entitled to vote at the precinct where the person cast a vote in the election and that the person had not already cast a ballot in the election.

(b)1. If it is determined that the person was registered and entitled to vote at the precinct where the person cast a vote in the election, the canvassing board shall compare the signature on the provisional ballot envelope with the signature on the voter's registration and, if it matches, shall count the ballot.

2. If it is determined that the person voting the provisional ballot was not registered or entitled to vote at the precinct where the person cast a vote in the election, the provisional ballot shall not be counted and the ballot shall remain in the envelope containing the Provisional Ballot Voter's Certificate and Affirmation and the envelope shall be marked "Rejected as Illegal."
Attorneys representing the AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Service Employees International Union argued that current limitations on the ballots, which mandate the exclusion of provisional ballots cast by people in the wrong precincts, violate the state constitution and disenfranchise voters who should be classified under the constitution as residents of counties and not particular precincts. Attorneys for Secretary of State Glenda Hood and elections officials responded by saying that Florida's provisional ballot law is a reasonable regulation akin to closing the polls at 7 PM. Questions raised by the justices ranged from Justice Anstead's fear that a burdensome number of provisional ballots would necessarily have to be sorted through to Chief Justice Pariente's concern that the High Court might not be able to do anything short of throwing out the law altogether. AP has more. Watch this morning's arguments online here. The ACLU has released a report indicating that since the provisional ballot law was passed up to 20% of some counties' provisional ballots have been rejected. Read the ACLU press release here, and their report here [PDF]. For coverage on JURIST's Paper Chase of the provisional ballot issue, including background of the case, click here.

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