Pointing to the First Amendment, voting-rights organizations Wednesday urged a federal appeals court to reject part of a controversial Florida elections law that prevents groups from providing food and water to people waiting in line at polling places.
Attorneys for the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and other plaintiffs filed a 67-page brief asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a district judge’s ruling that said increased “solicitation” restrictions near polling places violate speech rights.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in March found parts of the 2021 elections law (SB 90) unconstitutional after voting-rights groups and other plaintiffs filed a series of legal challenges. Walker concluded that the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature was intended to discriminate against Black Floridians.
The state, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee appealed Walker’s ruling to the Atlanta-based appeals court, which in May issued a stay that will allow the law to be in effect during this year’s elections.
But the underlying legal battle continued, with the appeals court scheduled to hear arguments Sept. 15 in Miami. The series of challenges have been consolidated, with the brief filed Wednesday by the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs in its portion of the case dealing with only two issues.
That included arguments by the groups that the additional solicitation restrictions violated the First Amendment because they are overbroad and vague. Florida has long had a law aimed at curbing solicitation, such as seeking votes and distributing campaign literature, near polling places.
But the brief Wednesday pointed to an additional phrase added in the 2021 law that would prohibit “engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter.” It contended that the wording is “astonishingly broad” and unconstitutional.
“It prohibits a vast swath of expressive activity at polling places, even though the more tailored prohibitions that existed before its enactment were fully adequate to ensure order at polling places and protect voters from electioneering in their immediate vicinity,” the brief said.
At least part of the issue involves efforts by groups to provide food and water to voters waiting in line. Opponents of the additional restrictions have contended that areas with large numbers of Black and Latino voters have traditionally had longer wait times for voting and that churches and other organizations have provided food, water and other aid to voters.
But in a brief last month asking the appeals court to overturn Walker’s ruling, attorneys for the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee disputed that the solicitation issue involves speech rights.
“Distributing food and water to voters in line is not inherently expressive; it conveys no identifiable message that is overwhelmingly apparent. Plaintiffs give gifts, such as bottled water or pretzels, to voters in line. But there is not a ‘great likelihood’ that the voters interpret these gifts to convey an identifiable message,” the Republican organizations’ brief said, partially quoting from a legal precedent.
The GOP organizations also contended that Florida needed to update its solicitation law.
“Before SB 90 was enacted, agitators at polling places in Florida were broadcasting messages over bullhorns and initiating fights,” last month’s brief said. “It was also difficult for election officials to tell whether a given interaction between third parties and voters involved improper electioneering, fraud, or undue influence.”
But the brief filed Wednesday by lawyers for the voting-rights groups disputed such arguments and said the law in the past allowed removing “disruptive and unruly persons” from areas around polling places.
“Nothing in the record suggests that (county elections) supervisors’ authority under those existing provisions was not up to the task,” the voting-rights groups’ brief said. “Indeed, the district court found that the supervisors did not ask for the solicitation definition or support its enactment.”
Walker’s March ruling sharply denounced parts of the law, which Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans approved amid a broader GOP push to change elections laws after former President Donald Trump lost in 2020. Florida had a relatively smooth 2020 election, but Republicans argued more restrictions were needed to prevent future wrongdoing.
In his ruling, which also addressed parts of the law dealing with issues such as drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots, Walker wrote that Florida “has repeatedly, recently, and persistently acted to deny Black Floridians access to the franchise.”
The other part of the voting-rights groups’ brief Wednesday involved an issue dealing with disclaimers by voter-registration groups. The Legislature this year repealed that part of the law, but debate has continued about how the appeals court should address it.
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida
If I hold a door open for a another voter am I Aiding and abetting Voter Fraud ?
Robert Joseph Fortier says
If you don’t already know who you are voting for by election day, maybe…just maybe…you shouldn’t be voting.
With all the bad going on in the country,
this is your headline ? Just pathetic.
It is totally bizarre to me that any state would have to vote on whether to give people water or food standing in long lines to vote. What kind of State would not allow such a thing? Welcome to Florida where the Governor made it a crime to do so. Wonder if his mother or grandmother needed water while they were standing in line and didn’t receive it? How would he feel then? What kind of human being would deny that to another human being? Well Welcome to Florida where DeathSantis doesn’t allow it. And he wants to be president of the US, I can only imagine what off the wall bizarre laws he will put into effect then?
Republicans have perfected a diabolical scam – eliminate large numbers of polling places where people can vote (mainly, “those kind of people” and we all know who they mean), eliminate drop boxes in many places (claiming falsely that they are hotbeds of fraud) and then when the result of this is long lines (sometimes hours long), especially in “those” communities – then pass laws to criminalize handing out food and water.
Someone on here the other day suggested a criteria for figuring out who to vote for – if there’s an “R” after their name, they do not get your vote.
I’ve long thought this – our country would be a hell of a lot better off if people stopped voting for this un-American, increasingly unhinged and authoritarian party.
They said there was wide spread voter fraud. Look who committed most of the voter fraud, white Repubs. Little to no punishment they received. They tried to make sure a person of color would get stiff punishment because they didn’t understand the law. A white man up north voted for a dead relative. Five years probation. The Black woman in Texas many years in prison. Another Black woman is free I think she went to jail in Ken. or Tenn. Now they are trying another trick, no water or food. I believe if all voters were white we will not have this problem. Another way to make it hard for people if color to vote. I believe this come from that Trump. DeSantis is so weak he agree with the no water no food while voting. What make him look bad and weak I believe he said the election in Fla. was smooth. People of color and Dems let us keep fighting. We must fight for the few freedoms we have left. The Repubs are trying to take everything away from the little man. We must continue to vote the Repubs out of office.
A.j: You don’t like whites and Dude doesn’t like seniors, and yet I bet you both are Democrats.
why not give people $20 buck while wearing a Biden shirt?
Timothy Patrick Welch says
They might be receiving much more.
I believe anyone on the public dole should loose there right to vote.
Its’s a direct conflict of interest.
Does that mean we should disregard the votes from the “Red States”? Because financial audit after audit has proven for decades that the majority of “Red States” are on the dole, taking in way more from the rest of the Republic than they contribute in tax dollars.
Does “dole” include those ho receive Social Security payments? Heating assistance? Meals on wheels? Or just poor people in general?
Michael Cocchiola says
DeSantis and his acolytes in the murderous state legislature are trying to kill you. First, limit mail-in voting. Then deny you water from good souls while you wait in Florida’s hot sun in line to vote in an assault on your life, particularly if you are 55 years old or in ill health.
But that’s a sacrifice they are willing to make to discourage you from voting.
Bring water, an umbrella, and a fan. Vote early, and vote BLUE!
“Then deny you water from good souls while you wait in Florida’s hot sun in line to vote in an assault on your life, particularly if you are 55 years old or in ill health.”
Cry me a river. If you are unhealthy then request a mail-in ballot. Problem solved.
ULTRA MAGA says
BEWARE of Palm Coast Observer’s endorsement of Hansen and Mullins! REVIEW their Voting Records!! They are both RINOS and the Developer’s ‘Big Guys’! They are both AGAINST Common Sense Impact Fees! If the Developers can not afford the increased impact fees( still lower than John’s and Volusia Country Impact Fees); than the Developers are in the WRONG business!
Ultra: You left out China.
The more the Cult GOP open their mouths with their wacko conspiracy theories the less and less votes they will get which is fine with me. Rick Scott and Hawley saying today to impeach the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI whom Trump appointed. How weak are these cult members that they are betraying our own country for one person who has committed more crimes then the man and the moon.
Please don’t vote for Rick Scott or DeathSantis they have nothing positive to offer the voters or our country when all they talk about are off the wall statements and conspiracy theories like Trump.
Look at all President Biden has done in only two years in office compare to the other one that has caused nothing but negative, attacks against our law enforcement agencies and attacks the rule of law because he doesn’t follow any laws in this country.
Personally I can’t stand the political cliques, with their little hats and signs, standing out front of polling places. I try to avoid them in and out of the polls, and I wish they’d stop thanking me. That said, the Republican law is just another veiled attempt to stop people, assumed to be Democrat, from voting. If the people handing out the water and food don’t wear any political tee shirts, hats or signs, then there should be no problem. Also, if the water bottles just claim to be spring water, or such, and have no political label, then it should be legal. Right Republicans? No more issue, correct? Water anyone?
Timothy Patrick Welch says
Maybe those cities just need more polling locations…
That seems like the real issue.
David S. says
Keep food and water away from the GOP for a month see how they feel.
It is time to change the name of Flagler live to Flagler liberals .
Regulator: Ah, you would like to regulate, wouldn’t you? Just black and white, right? If someone, no matter how moderate, doesn’t agree with you, you assign them a label “liberal.” Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…….