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A Victory for Voting Rights: Florida’s Voter Suppression Law Blocked by Federal Court

Derek Newton,
ACLU of Florida
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June 1, 2012

A victory for voting rights out of Florida this week: a federal court in Tallahassee blocked key provisions of the state’s new voter suppression law which discourages voter registration drives. The new law is so extreme that groups such as The League of Women Voters stopped registering voters entirely, and two teachers were threatened with fines for registering students in their classrooms under the guise of cracking down on ‘voter fraud.’

The ACLU, along with a coalition of civil rights groups, represents The League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and other impacted groups in a constitutional challenge to the law, arguing that restricting the rights of individuals and organizations to engage in the political process without a compelling state interest was a violation of the First Amendment. The judge agreed: “soliciting an application [to register to vote] is core First Amendment speech.”

Florida leaders didn’t see it that way. Here in the Sunshine State, manipulating elections has taken priority over free speech.

The judge also wrote, “The short deadline, coupled with substantial penalties for noncompliance, make voter registration drives a risky business. If the goal is to discourage voter registration drives and thus make it harder for new voters to register, the 48-hour deadline may succeed.”

Clearly, as we have argued from the very beginning, the new law aims to make it harder for people to register to vote. And limiting opportunities for voters to register has a real impact on both the people who do voter registration as well as the voters and communities they engage.

Listen to Denese’s story here [Podcast].

Other parts of the law make it harder to vote and harder to have your vote counted. Those provisions are under review in another ACLU case; this case is before a federal court in the District of Columbia and will determine whether the changes are in violation of the Voting Rights Act because of their disproportionate impact on racial and language minorities.

The most recent news on Florida’s voter suppression efforts is the state’s attempt to remove legally registered voters from the voting roles. Does our state know no shame? Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and yet lawmakers continue to try and make the process as burdensome as possible.

Thursday’s ruling is a victory for voting rights and a significant step in safeguarding the constitutional protections in Florida’s election procedures. We will continue to stand vigilant, fighting to protect our most fundamental right.

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