A Federal judge today declared a new Florida voter registration law unconstitutional, ruling that its stiff penalties for violations threaten free speech rights and that political parties were improperly exempted.

The ruling means that state authorities can NOT enforce provisions of the law. Several organizations had sued the state, saying the law effectively blocked voter registration drives because of the financial risks it imposed. (roll tape#1 o.q.�I’m absolutely thrilled�)

Dianne Wheatley-Gillioti is the President of the League of Women Voters,one of the plaintiffs in the case (roll tape#2 o.q.�registering voters�)

The law passed in the state legislature in 2005 and went into effect on January 1st of this year. The legislature said it was needed because the allegations surfaced that some groups purposely had held back voter-registration applications because the new voters had registered with the ''wrong'' political party.

The new rules imposed stiff fines on all individuals and organizations -- with the exception of political parties -- that missed the deadline for submitting new voter registrations to election officials. A $5,000 fine would be imposed for each voter registration application that a nonpartisan group failed to submit. There are less severe fines for missing registration deadlines, which are enforced even in the event of something as catastophic as a hurricane.

Rich Templin is with the Florida AFL-CIO, another plaintiff involved in the lawsuit. He says this law has been part of a troubling series of moves made by the Florida legislature to stifle the democratic process (roll tape#3 o.q.�being threatened�)

Sterling Ivey is a spokesman for Florida Secretary of State. He defends the now struck down law (roll tape#4 o.q.�in further court appeals�)

Dianne Wheatly-Gilotti of the Florida League of Women Voters says the law as written never made much sense to her at all (roll tape#5 o.q.�by this law�)

The law was spearheaded by Bradenton Republican Ron Reagan. He did not return our phone call to him by airtime. The Florida Secretary of State’s office will appeal the decision.

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