Florida GOP receives voter setback
Judge to Toss Out Changes in Florida Voter Registration
August 29, 2012
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
ARTICLE SOURCE: NEW YORK TIMES
MIAMI — A federal judge said on Wednesday that he planned to block provisions of a Florida measure that made it harder for organizations to register voters in the state.
The measure, part of a broad and contentious 2011 election law in Florida, had a serious impact on third-party voter groups, like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, which filed the suit along with the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. The groups asserted that the new requirements were onerous and made volunteers vulnerable to fines and even felony charges.
Voter registration, particularly among Democratic voters, declined significantly in the past year. The Florida Times-Union reported this week that the number of registered Democrats had increased by only 11,365 from July 1, 2011, to Aug. 1, 2012, a sharply lower figure than in the same periods during the past two presidential races. In 2004, nearly 159,000 new Democrats were registered in that period. In 2008, the number was nearly 260,000.
The 2011 Florida election law required groups that registered voters to turn in their completed forms within 48 hours or risk penalties. As a result, several organizations, including the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, stopped working in the state. Previously, groups had 10 days to submit the forms.
Deirdre Macnab, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, which suspended its operations for a year, said she was delighted with the ruling.
"It sets an important precedent in Florida and nationally that gives a strong level of protection for third-party registration groups," Ms. Macnab said. "We have been a historical part of America in reaching out to underserved communities."
But, she added, the all-volunteer voter registration groups now face an arduous task. The registration deadline for the November election is five weeks away.
"We have so far now to catch up in making sure that every day Florida voices are going to be heard in a very important election with very important decisions to be made," Ms. Macnab said.
Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Federal District Court in Tallahassee said he expected to prohibit the voter registration restrictions once a federal appeals court dismissed the case. The judge had suspended the restrictions on May 31, calling them "harsh and impractical" and "burdensome." Some voter groups restarted their registration drives after his initial ruling.
Changes to the voter registration process are among several measures in Florida's election law that are now before the courts. Critics of the law, including groups representing minorities, view it as an attempt to suppress voter registration and turnout, particularly among Democratic voters.
A separate federal lawsuit that challenges the election law under the Voting Rights Act is being brought by the Justice Department.
This month, a federal court ruled that a measure in the law curtailing early voting days could depress voter turnout among blacks. The court barred Florida from carrying out the changes in the five Florida counties that are covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That act requires that any changes in voting law must be approved by the Justice Department in certain states and counties with a history of racial discrimination.