A federal judge on Thursday blocked a controversial Florida law signed by Gov. Rick Scott that sharply curtailed third-party groups’ ability to register voters and forced many of them to discontinue their voter-registration drives.
In a 27-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle said there was little justification for a “harsh and impractical” 48-hour deadline for organizations to deliver applications to a voter-registration offices. Granting a preliminary injunction, Hinkle said such restrictions “effectively prohibit an organization from mailing applications in” and “impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose.”
“The short deadline, coupled with substantial penalties for noncompliance, make voter-registration drives a risky business,” Hinkle wrote. “If the goal is to discourage voter-registration drives and thus also to make it harder for new voters to register, the 48-hour deadline may succeed. But if the goal is to further the state’s legitimate interests without unduly burdening the rights of voters and voter registration organizations, 48 hours is a bad choice.”
Hinkle said the statute and rules regarding third-party voter registration were “not well crafted” and “virtually unintelligible, close to the point, if not past the point, at which a statute — especially one that regulates First Amendment rights and is accompanied by substantial penalties — becomes void for vagueness.”
Voting-rights groups and Democratic lawmakers, even more fired up in recent weeks over Scott’s decision to purge the state’s voter rolls of eligible voters, welcomed the decision.
“This law clearly was designed to stop people from voting, and I’m glad to see the judge’s ruling,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said in a statement.
“This is a huge win and sends a strong signal to officials in Florida and other states that if you erect barriers to registering voters, we will fight back,” Rock the Vote President Heather Smith said in a statement. “The ruling today serves as a reminder that voter registration activities are a fundamental and protected part of our democracy. We are hopeful that our volunteers can now get back to the civic engagement work we’ve been doing successfully around the country for two decades: engaging young people in their communities and educating them on the electoral process.”
The League of Women Voters dropped their registration drive over the restrictions last summer. The Justice Department objected to the restrictions under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act back in March and said the law might have been passed with the purpose of discriminating against minority voters.
Hinkle’s order is embedded below.