Florida Supreme Court Hears Provisional Ballot Challenge

The 2004 election will be the first presidential election in which people who are not listed on voter rolls can cast what is called a "provisional ballot.” If a check shows the voter was entitled to cast a ballot, the vote will be counted. But to be counted, the law requires voters to show up at the right precinct.

Civil rights advocates are challenging the law at the Florida Supreme Court claiming the precinct requirement violates the state constitution.

The state constitution makes no mention of precincts and says qualified voters shall be electors of their county. Civil rights groups are using the language to challenge a state law which requires voters to be in the right precinct, not just the right county when they are casting a provisional ballot.

Jonathan Weissglass is an attorney for AFL/CIO. He appeared before the state Supreme Court Wednesday and says, "What the constitution requires is that you vote in your county because you are an elector of the county. The precinct, there is nothing magical about the precinct, what's magical is that every vote be counted."

With four hurricanes and thousands of people displaced, Justice Peggy Quince expressed concern that voters would not know where to go.

"A lot of people have left their homes because of these hurricanes and may or may not get their mail forwarded."

But the lawyer for state Elections Supervisors, Ron Labasky says allowing voters to show up anywhere could cause chaos.

"If large numbers of people went to a certain location there wouldn't be sufficient ballots, and then the canvassing boards would be presented with a tremendous problem in trying to count those."

In the end, civil rights spokesperson Alma Gonzalez hopes that the court rules as it has in the past in favor of counting every vote.

"Because the constitution clearly says if you are an eligible voter and you have done everything in your power to register to vote, and to show up on Election Day to have your voice heard, then your voice ought to be heard."

With the election just over two weeks away, a speedy decision is expected. One study of recent elections found that more than seven percent of the provisional ballots cast were thrown out because the voter was at the wrong precinct.