522 F.3d 1153 (11th Cir. 2008), 07-15932, Florida State Conference of N.A.A.C.P. v. Browning

Docket Nº:07-15932.
Citation:522 F.3d 1153
Party Name:FLORIDA STATE CONFERENCE OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE, (NAACP) as an Organization and Representative of its Members, Haitian American Grassroots Coalition, as an Organization and Representative of its Members, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, As an Organization and Representative of its Clients, P
Case Date:April 03, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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522 F.3d 1153 (11th Cir. 2008)

FLORIDA STATE CONFERENCE OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE, (NAACP) as an Organization and Representative of its Members, Haitian American Grassroots Coalition, as an Organization and Representative of its Members, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, As an Organization and Representative of its Clients, Plaintiffs-Appellees,


Kurt S. BROWNING, in his Official Capacity as Secretary of State for the State of Florida, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 07-15932.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

April 3, 2008

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Peter Antonacci, Andy V. Bardos, Allen C. Winsor, Gray Robinson, P.A., Tallahassee, FL, for Browning.

Glenn Thomas Burhans, Jr., Greenberg Traurig, P.A., Tallahassee, FL, Elizabeth S. Westfall, The Advancement Project, Washington, DC, Robert A. Atkins, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Justin Michael Levitt, New York City, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Before TJOFLAT, DUBINA and BARKETT, Circuit Judges.

TJOFLAT, Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal of a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of a Florida voter registration statute as being preempted by two different federal statutes. The state law would require as a precondition of registering to vote for the first time in Florida that the voter disclose her driver's license number or the last four digits of her Social Security number on the registration application, and that this number match up with the number for this voter contained in the state driver's license database or the Social Security Administration's database, respectively. The district court held that plaintiffs, several organizations representing the interests of minority communities in Florida, had standing to challenge the statute, would likely succeed at trial on the merits of their claim that federal law preempts the enforcement of the state law, and would suffer irreparable injury absent provisional relief. Accordingly, the court preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of the state statute. We affirm the district court's decision on plaintiffs' standing to prosecute this action and reverse its decision granting the preliminary injunction.


In the wake of the November 2000 presidential election and its attendant controversies, Congress undertook to review and reform the administration of federal elections. This legislative effort resulted in the Help America Vote Act of 2002, Pub. L. 107-252, 116 Stat. 1706 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 15301 et seq.) ("HAVA"). Title III of HAVA, pertinent to this appeal, imposes a set of requirements upon the states in the areas of voter registration

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and election administration. The Act charges the states to implement its array of directives. See 42 U.S.C. § 15485. One such provision mandates that each state create a centralized, periodically updated database for its registration rolls, and that each registered voter must be linked to a unique identification number in this database. See 42 U.S.C. § 15483(a). Voters are required to provide on their registration application forms either the last four digits of their Social Security numbers or their driver's license numbers; if a voter has been issued neither number, then the state is required to assign to that voter a unique identification number for entry into the database. See id. at § 15483(a)(5)(A). HAVA also directs each state to determine according to its own laws whether the information provided by the registrant "is sufficient to meet the [federal] requirements." Id. at § 15483(a)(5)(A)(iii).

The state statute challenged in this case, Florida Statutes § 97.053(6) ("Subsection 6"), was enacted by the Florida legislature in 2005 and became effective on January 1, 2006, as part of Florida's implementation of HAVA. As amended, Subsection 6 imposes a new verification process as a precondition of voter registration for first-time registrants in Florida. See Fla. Stat. § 97.053(6). Under Florida law, valid registration is a prerequisite to voting in elections. See Fla. Const. art. VI, § 2 ("Every citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law, shall be an elector of the county where registered."); Fla. Stat. § 97.053(2) ("If the applicant fails to complete his or her voter registration application . . . such applicant shall not be eligible to vote in that election."). To be eligible to register to vote, a person must be a citizen of the United States, a permanent resident of Florida, over the age of eighteen, and not have been convicted of a felony or adjudicated mentally incapacitated. See Fla. Stat. § 97.041. Florida law also requires the voter to file her registration application at least twenty-nine days before a scheduled election, the so-called book closing date, in order to be eligible to vote in that election. See Fla. Stat. § 97.053(3)-(4); § 97.055.

To complete a registration form, the applicant must disclose certain personal identifying information, including the applicant's name, home address, and date of birth. Additionally, both Subsection 6 and HAVA require each applicant to provide either her Florida driver's license (or state-issued non-driver identification) number or the last four digits of the applicant's Social Security number when registering to vote.1 Subsection 6 also requires that before an application is accepted and the voter is listed as registered, the Florida Department of State must first verify or match the number provided in the application with the number assigned to the applicant's name by the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles ("DHSMV") or the Social Security Administration ("SSA").

The consequences of the matching procedure are at the center of this controversy. After a voter completes the registration application form and turns it in to the county election officials, the Department of State takes the information on the application form and compares it electronically against the information contained in the DHSMV and SSA databases.2 If the information the applicant fills out on her registration form cannot be matched to the

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information held by the DHSMV or the SSA, the registration will not be completed and the applicant will receive a brief and generic notification through the mail to that effect.3

What the voter must do to correct the mistake depends on the nature of the error, which unfortunately is not always made known to the applicant before she goes to correct it. If an error was made by the Department of State, e.g., during the data entry or matching process someone transposes two digits of a driver's license number, then the applicant needs to present documentary proof, like a copy of her driver's license or Social Security card, to the county Supervisor of Elections showing that the identification information she submitted in her application was correct. The voter can do this either before election day, or she can go to the polls on election day and cast a provisional ballot and then within two days bring the proof to the Supervisor of Elections. See Fla. Stat. § 97.053(6); § 101.048 (specifying the procedure for validating a provisional ballot).

However, if the error was made by the applicant herself - -either by transposing digits in the entry of the driver's license number or by entering a nickname or maiden name instead of the precise spelling of her legal name - -then the only way to cure the defect and be eligible to vote in the upcoming election is by filing a new application with the correct information before the book closing date.4 See Fla. Stat. § 97.052(6) (an applicant can correct any missing information on the registration form "up until the book closing [date] for [the] next election"); § 97.053(6) (a provisional ballot will be counted only if the applicant can verify the authenticity of the identification numbers "provided on the application"). There is no post-election way to fix an applicant-side error, and

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the provisional ballot cast by such a voter would not be counted because the voter would have failed to register in time. See Fla. Stat. § 101.048(2)(b)2 ("If it is determined that the person voting the provisional ballot was not registered . . . then the provisional ballot shall not be counted ....").5


Plaintiffs are the Florida State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("Florida NAACP"), the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project ("SVREP"), and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition ("HAGC"). All three plaintiff organizations work, among other goals, to increase voter registration and participation among members of racial and ethnic minority communities in Florida. The Florida NAACP and the HAGC are both umbrella organizations with local chapters throughout the state and have approximately 13,000 and 700 members statewide, respectively. SVREP is not a membership organization and has no members in Florida.

Plaintiffs filed this suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida and simultaneously moved for a preliminary injunction against the Florida Secretary of State, seeking to block the enforcement of Subsection 6 prior to the book closing date for the primary election held on January 29, 2008. The amended complaint raises a host of claims for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Subsection 6 violates the fundamental right to vote contained in the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth...

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