Judge Shuts Down Restrictive Florida Voter Registration Rules

As part of a broader assault on the voting rights of Floridians, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill in 2011 that placed severe restrictions and penalties on third party groups that attempt to register new voters. A federal judge ruled

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As part of a broader assault on the voting rights of Floridians, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill in 2011 that placed severe restrictions and penalties on third party groups that attempt to register new voters. A federal judge ruled Thursday that the law was unconstitutional.

The second, less-well-known effort, is a new set of Florida state rules that make it very difficult to register new voters, and create severe penalties for anyone who doesn’t precisely comply with them. These rules are so onerous that many groups that formerly routinely ran voter registration drives, like the League of Women Voters, stopped doing it because they found the new rules were impossible to comply with.

Now, thanks to a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and Rock the Vote, a federal judge in Tallahassee, no hotbed of liberalism, has issued a preliminary injunction halting enforcement of key parts of the voter-registration-suppression scheme:

"The statute and rule impose a harsh and impractical 48-hour deadline for an organization to deliver applications to a voter registration office and effectively prohibit an organization from mailing applications in. And the statute and rule impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional even to the extent they do not violate the [National Voting Rights Act]."

Read the full ruling.

Via press release, numerous groups applauded the ruling:

“Today’s ruling is a clear victory for Florida voters,” said Lee Rowland, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, one of the attorneys who argued the case for the Plaintiffs. “The Florida legislature has tried repeatedly to stifle access to voter registration opportunities. By halting onerous provisions of the law, the court has stood up for voters and for civic groups across the state helping Floridians register to vote.”

The Brennan Center for Justice, which represented the groups in the lawsuit, will hold a media conference call at 4:00 PM EST to discuss the decision. Please dial 800-651-2087, and use the passcode 32594759. Representatives from the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote, and Florida PIRG will also be on the call.

“For over 72 years, League volunteers have faithfully and successfully helped to register eligible Florida voters,” explained Deirdre Macnab, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “We are hopeful that this ruling will enable us to continue this important work. Florida’s anti-voter law creates impassable roadblocks for our volunteers, who are simply trying to bring fellow citizens into our democratic process. We are grateful the court recognized that the Constitution does not tolerate these types of barriers to civic participation and voter registration.”

“As the nation's largest young voter organization, we've dedicated more than two decades to educating and empowering young people to participate in our nation's democracy,” stated Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote. “Rock the Vote has encouraged hundreds of thousands of young Florida residents to have a voice in their community and country. Today’s ruling is a victory for them, and for our democracy. We will quickly assess whether this ruling will allow us to restart our critical voter registration work on the ground in Florida.”

“Our representative democracy relies on an engaged citizenry, yet voter turnout in Florida remains far too low,” added Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Education Fund. “That’s why we work to sign up thousands of first time voters across the state each election cycle. We are pleased the court froze the majority of this law, so we can continue to fulfill this mission.”

“We are pleased that our clients and civic groups all across the State of Florida demonstrated the intimidation and threat of punishment created by this unconstitutional law,” said Robert Atkins, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP representing the plaintiffs.

“This is a resounding victory for the Constitution and Florida citizens against a clear attempt to suppress political participation,” added Howard Simon of the ACLU of Florida.

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