A federal judge considering a constitutional challenge to a 2021 state elections law ordered attorneys Monday to quickly file briefs about the potential effects of a bill that the Legislature passed this month to make further changes in the elections system.
The bill (SB 524) had not been formally sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis as of Monday morning. But Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, in a sharply worded two-page order, said he is drafting a decision on the 2021 law.
“Yet no lawyer for any party has alerted the court of imminent changes to the laws at issue before this court — though the parties appeared to have been actively monitoring the latest election legislation as it moved through the Florida Legislature these past several weeks,” Walker wrote. “Accordingly, the parties must file on or before (5 p.m.), Wednesday, March 23, 2022, an expedited supplemental brief addressing what impact, if any, Florida’s Senate Bill 524 would have on the challenged provisions and claims before this court in the event the governor signs the legislation into law.”
Walker did not specify issues that the attorneys would need to address.
The bill, which received final approval from the House on March 9 after earlier passing the Senate, drew heavy debate over issues such as creating an office at the Department of State to investigate alleged voting irregularities. DeSantis pushed for creation of such an office, as Republicans across the country have sought to revamp election laws to address what they contend is fraud.
The bill, among other things, also included changes involving organizations that work to register people to vote and collect applications. At least one of those changes involved an issue that has been part of the challenge to the 2021 law.
Under the 2021 law, the organizations are required to provide disclaimers informing potential voters that their applications may not be turned in within a 14-day window imposed by the law. This year’s bill would remove that requirement on the organizations.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit have argued that the disclaimers will discourage people from registering to vote through such organizations, which frequently target Black and Hispanic prospective voters.
Testifying in January, League of Women Voters of Florida President Cecile Scoon said the disclaimer “seems to have a negative impact” on prospective voters. Scoon described a situation in which a man had nearly completed the registration application before she showed him the disclaimer printed on a placard.
“He picked it up and looked at it. It froze him. He wasn’t happy. … He did an about-face,” Scoon said.
This year’s bill also includes issues such as ratcheting up financial and criminal penalties for violating elections laws, such as what has become known as “ballot harvesting,” which can include collecting and delivering vote-by-mail ballots for multiple people.
Another part of the bill would require county supervisors of elections to annually scour voter rolls for potentially ineligible voters in a process known as “list maintenance.” Under current law, supervisors are required to do list maintenance every other year.
The League of Women Voters of Florida, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida and two dozen other groups filed lawsuits challenging the 2021 measure, arguing in part that it is intended to make it harder for Black and Hispanic residents to vote. Republicans contend that the 2021 law and this year’s bill are needed to maintain election integrity.
The 2021 law focused heavily on changes to voting by mail, an issue also addressed in this year’s bill. Among other things, lawmakers this year approved changing the name of “drop boxes” — where people can drop off vote-by-mail ballots — to “secure ballot intake stations.”
Walker heard more than two weeks of testimony in late January and February about the 2021 law.
–Jim Saunders, with Dara Kam, News Service of Florida
Now presenting the Governors tap dancers and himself on stage yelling how unfair it is.
Let’s pray the Federal Judge makes the right decision on this an voters rights won’t be discriminated against like DeathSantis is trying to do. The Cult GOP is trying to change voting laws to make it easier for their side to win and harder for people of color to vote. And DeathSantis wasting taxpayers money to have voting police is outrageous.
Hes just another orange clown posse member who happens to have his eyes set on one thing rondons Political Future nothing more
When the FL legislature was in the process of pushing this new “election security” bill through the process toward becoming law, Republicans had not only a perfect opportunity, but also an obligation to FL citizens to show at least some minimal evidence or justification for the need for such legislation. Especially after FL election officials and elected politicians publicly stated that the 2020 presidential election here in FL was the most secure and unvarnished election this state has ever had. Where was not just all the supposed evidence of widespread election fraud, but ANY scintilla of evidence of election fraud? What possible justification was there after the 2020 election for all of these proposed changes to this state’s election process? Obviously, without presenting any evidence of the need for changes to our state’s election process, the proposed changes pushed through, not on a bipartisan basis but ONLY by GOP politicians worried about loosing future elections and the eroding of GOP power, the only reason has to be to satisfy the right-wing base for political reasons. And that should be not only illegal, but blatantly unconstitutional. I hope the federal judge puts a quick stop to such an irresponsible and unconstitutional anti-voter effort that is designed to further erode democracy in our already backwards state.
Deborah Coffey says
Spot on. Although, a bit later quite a few Republicans were arrested for voter fraud and, what about those people in Miami-Dade that wore red caps, approached over 5,000 mostly non-English speaking elderly voters, got them to sign “something” that changed their political party registrations from Democrat to Republican? Then, Tallahassee puts out the news that for the first time in ages, there are more Republican voters in Florida than Democrats. Yes, were are up against fraud…REPUBLICAN fraud…all the way around.
Cry baby Trump, look what all the nonthinking for themselves Gop leaders are doing. We Dems need to vote in groves this year like we never did before.