Lawsuits swamp Florida's new elections law signed by Gov. DeSantis
One group said the new law "disproportionately impacts Black voters, Latino voters, and voters with disabilities."
A deluge of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Florida's contentious new elections law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis during an event televised exclusively by FOX News Thursday, has begun.
Within minutes of the law being signed, the League of Women Voters of Florida announced it was joining a lawsuit that included the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and several individual Florida voters as plaintiffs.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Common Cause quickly followed, saying they were jointly filing a federal lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, saying the new law creates obstacles to voter access.
And the League of United Latin American Citizens announced it too was suing the state — as well as asking the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation of Republican sponsors of the bill.
"It’s a despicable attempt by a one party ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American,” said Patricia Brigham, president of The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF), in a news release announcing its lawsuit.
A request to the Governor's Office for reaction to the suits is pending.
The League's complaint is against Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Attorney General Ashley Moody and all 67 county supervisors of elections. It says the new law imposes several hurdles for voters:
- It places restrictions on mail-in drop boxes.
- It bans third party groups from helping voters return their vote-by-mail ballots.
- It requires annual renewal of vote-by-mail ballot requests.
- It prevents non-poll workers from offering food and water to voters waiting in line.
The LWVF group of plaintiffs is represented by the law firms of King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth and Perkins Coie.
The bill (SB 90), which passed both the House and Senate along party lines after heated debate, was crafted in response to controversies over the validity of the 2020 Presidential election and persistent but unfounded rumors of election fraud.
It was defended by Republican supporters as imposing guardrails to protect the integrity of the voting process. Democrats said those restrictions weren't needed, as demonstrated by a nearly flawlessly run election in the state in 2020.
Florida also saw the highest voter participation in decades, fueled largely by the increase in voters choosing to mail in their ballots rather than face possible long lines and possible COVID-19 exposure at polling places.
Voter registration and participation was particularly higher among Blacks and other communities of color, the League of Women Voters said. Those gains will disappear under the new law and even push back voting rights, the League added.
“The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color," Brigham said.
NAACP lawsuit alleges new law puts 'burdens' on Black voters
The NAACP lawsuit claims that the new law creates "barriers and burdens that impact all Florida voters and disproportionately impacts the ability of Black voters, Latino voters, and voters with disabilities to cast their ballot."
The suit also claims the bill violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Zachery Morris, LDF assistant counsel, said the law is designed to suppress the votes of Blacks, Latinos and the disabled.
"These efforts are shameful and they are not new," Morris said in a release. "We cannot allow elected officials to suppress votes under the guise of election integrity.”
That lawsuit challenges multiple provisions in the new law, including:
- New identification requirements for voters requesting vote-by-mail (“VBM”) ballots.
- Restrictions and new requirements for standing VBM applications.
- Limitations on where, when, and how drop boxes can be used.
- Limitations on third-party VBM ballot return.
The NAACP described the law as vague and overbroad and said it prioritizes voting restrictions over voter access, despite the proven integrity of the 2020 elections.
“Though this law was rushed to a vote under the pretense of election integrity, even the proponents of SB 90 have been unable to point to evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election in Florida that could justify the law’s limitations on voting rights,” said Robert Fram of Covington & Burling, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Tony DePalma, director of public policy at Disability Rights Florida, said it was “highly unfortunate that Florida is moving to broadly restrict elections access less than a year after it agreed to implement statewide accessible vote-by-mail balloting options for voters with visual and other print impairments — an obligation that has remained unfulfilled in state law for nearly two decades."
Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, said DeSantis has added Florida to the list of states that are moving backward on voter access: “Florida voters should have the freedom to cast their ballots in the same ways they have voted in past election cycles.”
And Domingo Garcia, National President of LULAC, said they've decided to sue the state and ask for a Department of Justice review for violation of civil and criminal laws.
"These changes are deliberately designed to affect mostly people of color and are being enacted at the direction of Governor Ron DeSantis," he said in a release.
LULAC is also suing over the constitutionality of the so-called "anti-riot" bill signed into law by DeSantis in April.
That law has already been challenged by an Orlando-based advocacy group, Legacy Entertainment & Arts Foundation. Its complaint says the new law violates First Amendment protections for free speech, Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment and 14th Amendment protections of due process, the Associated Press reported.
Jeffrey Schweers is a capital bureau reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida. Contact Schweers at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.
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