The state of Florida has agreed to forgo enforcement of key elements of new voting restrictions that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law only Monday, including a highly contested disclosure mandate for voter-registration organizations.
In a notice to Chief Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Secretary of State Laurel Lee said officials also would place a hold on provisions restricting use of ballot drop boxes to county election supervisors’ main or permanent branch offices used for early voting.
That’s in line with an order Walker issued on March 31 that, because of its 20-year pattern of discrimination against the voting rights of Black people, the state must submit any voting law changes to the U.S. Department of Justice or the courts for “preclearance” before they can take effect.
“While the state disagrees that preclearance is appropriate, and has sought a stay of the post-trial order before the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the] Eleventh Circuit, these sections will not be ‘enforced’ absent further guidance,” Lee’s notice reads.
The notice includes an attachment documenting that Lee’s office, which oversees elections in Florida, has notified the 67 county elections supervisors of the hold.
DeSantis made no mention of any of this when signing the new law (SB 524) on Monday. That measure places additional restrictions on use of drop boxes for mail-in ballots; and hikes penalties for voter registration organizations that miss deadlines for turning in registration forms to as much as $50,000 per year; and requires registration forms to warn that the organizations might miss deadlines for turning them in to officials.
Those provisions are on hold now, at least while the state’s appeal of Walker’s ruling remains pending. Lee gave no signal the state would run them past the U.S. Department of Justice or a court.
Other provisions, including creation of a joint civilian/FDLE force to investigate and prosecute voter fraud, remain in effect.
“The decision in our case makes clear that the state must seek federal approval before implementing any law or policy that impacts third-party voter registration organizations, drop boxes, or helping people in voting lines because of Florida’s history of racial discrimination in voting,” said Caren Short, senior supervising attorney for Voting Rights with the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a written statement.
“This law clearly falls under this requirement, and we call on the state to seek federal preclearance or, better yet, cease its latest attempt to create barriers to voting.”
“Florida’s leaders should be making voting more accessible,” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, policy director and senior counsel with Fair Elections Center. “Instead, they are doubling down on voter intimidation and other barriers to voting and voter registration that make it harder for Floridians to make their voices heard.”
Both organizations participated in the litigation that prompted Walker’s ruling, League of Women Voters v. Lee; they represented the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters, one of the voting-rights organizations challenging 2021’s SB 90.
Walker ruled that central element of SB 90 violated the U.S. Constitution and Voting Rights Act.
Moreover, citing what he saw as a 20-year history of voting restrictions designed to depress the Black vote in order to hurt Democrats, Walker invoked Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, which authorizes judges to “bail-in” jurisdictions with histories of bias for federal scrutiny of any voting law revisions.
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix