Florida Citizens Groups Take Voting Rights Battle to Court

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote and the Florida Public Interest Research Group claim that new GOP-sponsored voting requirements will hurt students, seniors, the disabled and minorities — groups that often vote Democratic in the state.

Posted: 12/20/2011 03:07 PM EST

The GOP's efforts to narrow voting rights in Florida have now engendered legal resistance. The League of Women Voters and other civic groups, claiming that a new state law unconstitutionally “burdens their efforts” to simply register voters, filed suit in state court last week seeking to dismantle the new legislation.


Attorneys for the League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote and the Florida Public Interest Research Group argue that Florida’s new law 40 requires so-called “third party voter registration” organizations such as theirs to pre-register with the state and satisfy a number of cumbersome disclosure requirements before engaging in any voter registration activities. Under the law, they are now also required to continually submit updates about their organization’s status, an act the groups call “burdensome.”


"There is no indication that Florida's existing law was inadequate in addressing the state's interest in preventing voter registration fraud and ensuring the integrity of the registration process,” the complaint reads. “Furthermore, even if the state had discovered shortcomings in the existing law, the new law burdens far more speech and associated activity than is necessary to accomplish any legitimate government interest."


Some of their new responsibilities include tracking inventory and reporting every voter registration form they handle on a monthly basis; delivering to state election officials all completed voter registration forms within an “arbitrarily narrow and vague” 48-hour window; submitting all mandated forms electronically, and incurring fines ranging from $50 to $1,000 for violating the rules.


The groups claim that the law will disproportionally harm members of minority communities, who regularly rely on community-based groups to help them overcome barriers to registering to vote. It will also cause disparate harm to senior citizens, students, people with disabilities and members of low-income communities. Critics have pointed out the obvious political cynicism of Republican-controlled legislatures such as Florida’s enacting laws that will suppress voting among traditionally Democratic-voting groups, such as African-Americans. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that as many as 5 million voters could be disenfranchised in the 2012 election — more than enough to tip almost any presidential election in favor of the GOP. 


Florida — a key battleground state — has been in the spotlight for voter suppression tactics this year. Earlier this month, the NAACP found that Florida has one of the “most restrictive” felon disenfranchisement laws in the country — denying “the right to vote permanently to all individuals convicted of any felony offense.”


Injustice has a way of sparking resistance. That is now the case in Florida and other states where simple fairness and respect for democratic processes increasingly appear to be ignored in favor of turning back the clock to the pre-civil rights era.


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(Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Landov)