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Florida gets another legal challenge to new elections rules

Published: Jun. 15, 2021 at 11:16 AM EDT
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Two more groups sued Florida over its new restrictive elections laws Monday, adding to a growing chorus of voter rights advocates who say the rules could keep some people from casting ballots.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee by the Fair Elections Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of Head Count and the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters.

The suit argues that the new law foments distrust against civic organizations that work to register voters by suggesting that residents use the government’s website instead.

The lawsuit is designed to “protect our clients’ right to organize through voter registration activities, communicating their message that our democracy works better when all our voices are heard,” Michelle Kanter Cohen, policy director and senior counsel at Fair Elections Center, said in a statement.

“Voter registration organizations serve their communities by building trusted relationships with Floridians for whom voting and participation may not otherwise be accessible,” she added.

At the core of the complaint is a requirement under the law that third-party voter registration groups use specific language to tell all residents who work with them that they might not submit a voter’s application documents in a timely fashion.

The lawsuit contends that the groups are being forced to provide an “inaccurate warning” that is “self-denigrating, misleading, and contradictory” to the mission of the groups.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last month, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, places new restrictions on who can collect completed ballots and requires identifying information for once-routine registration transactions. It also mandates how voter-rights groups can operate in the state.

The changes are part of a national effort by Republicans to tighten voting laws in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud caused him to lose the 2020 election.

DeSantis, a potential Republican contender for the White House in 2024, has helped stoke those false claims.

Florida is is already facing a raft of lawsuits filed by others.

On the same day the governor signed the bill, the League of Women Voters of Florida joined the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and others in assailing the new law in a federal suit. Another suit filed by the NAACP and Common Cause alleges the law targets people who are Black, Latino or disabled.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sued the state to overturn another elections laws that makes it more difficult for voters to change the state constitution. That law establishes a $3,000 limit on individual contributions to groups promoting ballot initiatives. The limit is imposed until a proposal is approved for the ballot.

Opponents argue that the law would have made it nearly impossible to get such issues as medical marijuana or minimum wage increases on the ballot. Republicans who backed the initiative argued it was needed to keep out-of-state special interest money from influencing the state constitution.

The broader elections law restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used and who can collect ballots — and how many. To protect against so-called ballot harvesting, an electoral Good Samaritan can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family and no more than two from unrelated people. Also under the new rules, drop boxes must be supervised and will only be available when elections offices and early voting sites are open.

Scripps Only Content 2021