Feds Slam Florida's New Election Laws
June 1, 2012 | WMFE - A federal judge has issued an injunction barring the enforcement of part of Florida's controversial new election law. The judge declared parts of the law restricting the efforts of voter registration groups "harsh and impractical". On the same day, the Department of Justice sent a letter to state elections officials demanding an immediate halt to the state's efforts to remove thousands of voters from the rolls.
A provision of the new law requires voter registration groups to submit their registration forms to election officials within 48 hours of collecting them instead of 10 days. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said that requirement was “harsh and impractical” and blocked enforcement of that provision.
Lee Rowland is one of the attorneys who argued the case for groups including the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote.
“This ruling, first and foremost is a significant victory.” Rowland said. “Throughout this case we have noted that Florida’s voter registration rates are not where they should be. They are too low and they’ve gotten lower in recent years. During that period, the Florida
Legislature has now three times passed laws that restrict community based voter registration groups that increase both registration rates and participation.”
Judge Hinkle sided with the voter groups saying the rules made it too difficult for non-governmental organizations to register voters.
But the sponsor of the law, Republican Representative Dennis Baxley of Ocala took issue with Judge Hinkle calling the 48 hour provision impractical.
“It sounded more like a personal opinion than a judicial opinion actually. “ Baxley said. “I’ve completed a lot of business arrangements and contractual arrangements where I had 48 hours or less to comply with certain aspects. My question is just the opposite, why do people need to hold them for ten days?”
Baxley and other supporters of the law have argued the need for the new rules to stamp out voter fraud but Baxley says Hinkle’s ruling is fairly minor compared to the overall scope of the law.
“I think it affirms the bulk of the law as very much in order, there may be some peripheral issue or there may be something that needs changing or wasn’t adequate but it certainly doesn’t discount the full impact and the purpose of the legislation.”
Judge Hinkle also barred the state from requiring volunteers to sign a form that misled voters about the penalties for unknowingly submitting forms with inaccurate information on them. The law caused some registration groups to stop registering voters.
Now, Deirdre Macnab, President of the Florida League of
Women Voters, says they are eager and ready to get back to work.
“What it will take for us is to make sure for us that we fully understand what the requirements will now be on our volunteers and that they will not be at risk with resuming voter registration activities.” Macnab said.
In a statement, Governor Rick Scott said he is pleased that the central parts of the voter registration laws have been upheld, but didn’t say whether the state would appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile A federal court is considering whether to allow the law’s changes in five counties with a history of racial and language discrimination.
In another, related development Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to state elections officials demanding the state immediately halt its efforts to remove thousands of voters from the rolls
State officials are working to identify non-citizens and remove them from the voter rolls but the federal government says that violates federal law because the procedures Florida is using to identify non-citizens have not been reviewed. The letter also says that removing voters from the rolls less than 90 days before a federal election also violates federal law. A spokesman for the Florida Department of State said officials are "firmly committed" to preventing voter fraud and keeping ineligible voters from casting ballots.