Changes to Florida Voting Laws 3 - Complaints and Lawsuits

Late in 2011, after a speech by Attorney General Eric Holder explicitly indicating Florida's new laws as an illustration of recent national legislation that hampers U.S. citizen's' capability to cast a ballot The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU) along with the Brennan Center for Justice and the two private law firms sued the state of Florida on behalf of the League of Women Voters (LWV), Rock the Vote, a group that has assisted in registering more than five million young Americans along with the Florida Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a consumer group that states they stand up to powerful special interest groups, challenging the new restrictions on voter registration and community-based voter registration drives as well as challenging the overall legitimacy of latest changes to the states Election Code. 

*A spokesperson for the LWV of Florida stated that for well over seventy years the League’s efforts to register eligible individuals who wanted to vote had borne fruit within the state, but the implementation of what she termed an anti-voter law constructs impenetrable blockades for their unpaid workers who volunteer their time to merely try to assist residents of the state to become a part of the process of democracy. She vowed to fight what she termed “unacceptable barriers to voting and voter registration."

Equally, Rock the Vote’s **spokeswoman basically emphasized the same thoughts, declaring that the organization had devoted their time for more than twenty years by instructing and enabling eligible fledgling voters to grow into a part of the country’s democratic process. She mentioned their “volunteer youth-led programs” and “civics education initiatives” that serve colleges and high schools with unpaid personnel to encourage young potential voters throughout the state to express their opinions in local as well as National elections. She mentioned that hundreds of thousands of Florida’s eligible and soon to be eligible voters have been influenced by the organization’s efforts in a positive way. She went on to express her outrage of the policies of the new laws, citing that they will only hinder the prospect and dissuade the involvement of young voters; continuing by stressing that the new laws are “simply un-American”.

PIRG’s Florida advocate and ***spokesman’s remarks reflected the comments of the two women and he added that voter turnout in Florida was too low even before these new laws went into effect. He went on to reference how his organization was highly involved in the endeavor to recruit thousands of first-time voters throughout Florida before every election cycle. He concluded by inferring that instead of finding ways to assist in signing up new voters to participate in the process, the legislature has decided to target the very groups that work so hard to draw them into the practice. Exasperated, he stated that “This law will inevitably lead to fewer voters at the polls."

In Holder's speech he pointed out that "protecting this right, ensuring meaningful access and combating discrimination must be viewed, not only as a legal issue but as a moral imperative" The action by the above-mentioned civic groups represents "the front lines of this moral imperative."

Most groups that are advocates of voter registration and work to assist signing up prospective voters regard the new law as an endeavor to sanction voter registration drives out of being by concealing their efforts in massive paper work and red tape as well as the volunteer-based groups having to endure the threat of substantial fines even as overall voter registration in in the state of Florida continues to slide.

According to the court filing, all three groups maintain that the state's new regulations are in violation of federal law and/or the U.S. Constitution by violating the groups' rights of speech and association, protected by the Constitution, inadequate instruction and untimely notice of how groups and individuals are to comply with the law's unclear and confusing directives and being a clear violation of the Voter Registration Act which at that time was still intact.

Separate lawsuits were also filed by the League of Women Voters and The Brennan Center against Florida's two previous laws that laid out restrictions for groups that practiced community-based voter registration. Lee Rowland, an attorney for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program stated that "This law represents Florida legislators' third attempt in six years to drown voter registration groups in regulation… It is unfortunate that we have had to represent Florida's leading voter registration groups, not once, or twice, but three times in fighting back against the Florida legislature's repeated attempts to stifle access to voter registration opportunities."

At that time, the State of Florida was requesting a panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C. to "preclear" the new provisions in their own lawsuit, by demonstrating that the new law had neither a purpose nor an effect of injuring minority voting groups. Civil rights groups including the League of Women Voters of Florida as well as individuals which included election officials and average voters have intervened in the case in their attempt to show the law's impacts on these voting groups. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, the Brennan Center, and a private law firm is representing the plaintiff's concerns in the case pro bono.      

About a year later in In June 2012 the United States filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida pursuing pre-clearance for the new law implemented in 2011. But because of the Supreme Court's decision the following June, all of the above-mentioned suits by those seeking to kill the law were left unsettled.

Spokespersons commenting above for the various organizations involved:
* Deirdre Macnab: League of Women Voters of Florida (LWV)
** Heather Smith: (Rock the Vote)
*** Brad Ashwell: Public Interest Research Group of Florida (PIRG)

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