|News Media Update||FLORIDA||Freedom of Information|
Felony list from Florida voter rolls is public
- A list of felons to be purged from Florida voting rolls must be made public, a judge ruled yesterday, calling unconstitutional a law to prevent it from being copied.
July 2, 2004 — The Florida Division of Elections must allow requesters to copy, not just inspect, the list of registered Florida voters suspected of being convicted felons, a circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled yesterday.
CNN sued for copies of the records after the state claimed the list could only be reviewed, not copied, under the state’s election reform law. Circuit Court Judge Nikki Ann Clark said the Florida Constitution grants every person a fundamental right to inspect or copy public records and that the public, not the government, has the choice of whether to inspect or copy them.
“The right to inspect without the right to copy is an empty right indeed,” Clark wrote, finding that provision of the election reform law unconstitutional.
Numerous media groups, the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee and the Florida American Civil Liberties Union intervened in CNN’s lawsuit.
In early May, a memorandum from Division of Elections Director Ed Kast said 48,000 registered voters had been identified as having felony convictions and were to be removed from voter rolls. Florida law does not allow convicted felons to vote.
According to the court record, several local elections supervisors had decided to attempt to contact the individuals identified on the list before taking any action to remove them.
The state election reform law, passed in 2001, gave political parties, political action committees and office holders, and agencies a right to copy the lists. However, all others could only inspect the lists, from which they could not take notes.
In a hearing on the issue, The Miami Herald reported, Judge Clark noted “the irony of the state fighting to protect the privacy rights of people whose names may be wrongly listed as felons” while handing the list to groups entitled to have it under the election reform law.
“How can there be a right to privacy when hundreds of people have it?” she asked, according to the Herald .
(Cable News Network v. Florida Dept. of State; Media Counsel: Gregg D. Thomas, Holland & Knight, Tampa) — RD
© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press