Voting Newsletter: Federal Court Removes Florida Registration Restrictions

August 29, 2012

Latest Developments

Florida Victory: Federal Court Removes New Restrictions on Voter Registration Groups

Civic groups and Florida voters scored a decisive victory today when a federal judge indicated he will permanently remove controversial restrictions on community-based voter registration drives.

 “The Florida legislature has tried repeatedly to stifle access to voter registration opportunities, and once again a federal court has stopped them in their tracks,” said the Center’s Lee Rowland, one of the attorneys who argued the case on behalf of the groups. “We are thrilled that voter registration groups can now get back to what they do best — expanding our democracy.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote, and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund filed a lawsuit in December challenging the restrictions. Federal Judge Robert L. Hinkle temporarily blocked enforcement of the law in May, saying the restrictions violated the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

Judge Hinkle issued an order today stating the court will grant the parties’ request to permanently remove the restrictions once he receives confirmation that a federal appeals court has dismissed the case.

The Florida law is just one in a wave of restrictive voting measures that passed in 2011. Together these laws could make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote this November.

Judges Hear Challenge to South Carolina Voter ID  

A three-judge panel will consider this week whether South Carolina has shown its ID law does not discriminate against minority voters. The Department of Justice and voting rights advocates argue it does.

Republican legislators passed the law insisting it would prevent voter fraud. But during questioning from a Justice Department lawyer, state Sen. George “Chip” Campsen III admitted voter ID would not prevent the kind of fraud cited in his testimony. Voter ID would only prevent impersonation fraud, which he conceded has not been found in South Carolina.

The law allows a citizen to vote with a provisional ballot if they have a “reasonable impediment” to getting an ID. This includes not having enough time to get one before the election, said the state’s election director, Marci Andino, in testimony Tuesday. Critics contend this gives individual poll workers too much discretion in deciding who can and cannot vote with an ID.

Testimony is expected to last the rest of this week. Closing arguments are set for September 24. The Brennan Center, with other groups, represents the League of Women Voters of South Carolina and a state resident without an ID. For more on the trial, read here, here, and here.

State Updates

Texas – A federal court could rule on the state’s voter ID law this week. If the law is not precleared, Texas will directly challenge Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was designed to prevent laws that discriminate against minorities. A federal court in Washington, D.C. rejected a similar challenge to Section 5 earlier this year.

Ohio – Voters who accidentally cast ballots in the wrong precinct because of an election worker error will now have their votes counted, a federal judge ruled Monday. Read more here. Meanwhile, a battle has erupted about early voting. Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) ordered uniform early voting hours for all 88 Ohio counties, but his directive removed early voting on weekends. Husted fired two Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections for fighting to keep weekend hours. The Fair Elections Ohio Committee filed suit to stop Husted’s order. There are also concerns about the accuracy of antiquated voting machines in this critical swing state. And True the Vote, a group that supports restrictive voting laws, held an “election integrity summit” near Columbus, Ohio. Secretary of State Husted pulled out of that conference after being criticized in the media.

Minnesota – Voter ID opponents suffered a setback when the state Supreme Court refused to remove a photo ID referendum from the November ballot. Separately, the court reinstated the legislature’s original wording of the measure, which will amend the state’s constitution. The decision discarded a new version written by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who said the original text was misleading.

New York – The Brennan Center joined Empire State officials to announce a new initiative that allows voters to register online. Holders of a valid driver’s license or state-issued ID can sign in to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website to register or update their registration. The initiative also partially automates voter registration at DMV offices, joining a growing group of states to have made this improvement. Read an Albany Times Union op-ed praising this development from the Center’s Wendy Weiser and Elisabeth Genn.

Florida – A panel of federal judges blocked Florida's attempt to restrict early voting in five counties protected by the Voting Rights Act. “This is another victory for voters against the continued attempts by politicians to manipulate access to the polls,” said the Center’s Diana Kasdan. Florida is now seeking approval of a modified plan. Read more here, here, and here. The Washington Post had a concise review of all voting litigation in the state, including fights over voter registration drives, early voting, and purges. “It’s unfortunate to see that limiting certain voters’ access to the polls matters more to [state officials] than encouraging legitimate turnout,” opined a Post editorial.

Pennsylvania – A state court judge upheld Pennsylvania’s restrictive voter ID law. The Brennan Center’s Keesha Gaskins wrote that the ruling ignores the practical reality of supplying IDs to eligible citizens who need them. Voter ID opponents appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear the case on September 13th. Watch Nicole Austin-Hillery discuss the decision on CNN and Democracy Now, and Mimi Marziani comments on HuffPost Live. The lead plaintiff in the suit, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite, finally managed to get her voter ID — even though she had none of the supporting documents the law demands. Read how the ID requirement affects voters and its possible impact on the 2012 election. Meanwhile, in a settlement involving at least 15 states, Pennsylvania agreed to make voter registration easier at public-assistance agencies, as required by the 19-year-old Motor Voter Law.

California – The state legislature passed a bill to start Election Day registration in 2016.

Virginia – The Department of Justice approved the state’s voter ID law, which does not require a photo ID.

Wisconsin – Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked the state Supreme Court to restore its voter ID law before the November election. Read more here and here. 

And don’t forget our up-to-date online summary of all pending and passed voting laws.

New Data and Research

New Guide Explains Rules for Registration Drives

In recent years, state legislatures have increasingly made it harder to conduct voter registration drives. A new Brennan Center report analyzes the most onerous restrictions and provides a snapshot of the law in every state. Read the report here.

Media Round-Up

  • NPR detailed the numerous legal challenges to new restrictive election rules. “Many of these new laws are really just not reasonable election regulations, but rather more illegitimate attempts by politicians to manipulate the rules of elections for their own benefit,” said the Center’s Wendy Weiser.
  • Lawrence Norden also spoke to NPR about how new voter ID laws could make it harder for some to vote. “Voting is both a responsibility and a right ... but government has a responsibility also to make voting accessible to all of its citizens,” he said.
  • In The Washington Post, the News 21 Project chronicled the rise of election observers such as True the Vote and the possibility of voter intimidation. Watch Wendy Weiser discuss these poll watchers on “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Read more analysis from Colorlines and AlterNet.
  • “The Daily Show” provided a hilarious takedown of the Pennsylvania voter ID decision and false claims of voter fraud.
  • Ryan J. Reilly at TPM profiled Election Protection, a non-partisan coalition of civil rights groups, including the Brennan Center, “that seeks to combat the wave of restrictive voting laws that have swept state legislatures in the past few years.”
  • Writing in Politico, Lawrence Norden explained how the states passing voter ID laws in the name of voter fraud have failed to take basic security steps to prevent fraud from insecure voting machines.
  • UC-Irvine Law Professor Rick Hasen wrote three op-eds for TPM highlighting the ongoing voting battle and his new book, “The Voting Wars.” Professor Hasen will discuss the book at the Brennan Center on September 10th in New York City. More on the book at The Takeaway.
  • Voter ID laws could have a particularly large impact on college students. Laws in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania “were actually drafted in such a way that not a single existing public university or school ID complied with the requirements as set out in the legislation,” the Center’s Lee Rowland told New America Media. See our 50-State Student Voting Guide for rules in your state.
  • The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen interviewed civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D – Ga.) on the fight against restrictive voting laws.