Skip Navigation
Court Case Tracker

State of Florida v. United States of America

The League of Women Voters of Florida and the National Council of La Raza objected to Florida’s new election law, arguing it erects unnecessary barriers to voting and voter registration and will disproportionately harm Florida’s minority voters.

Published: September 13, 2011

On May 19th, 2011, Flor­ida Governor Rick Scott signed Flor­id­a’s House Bill 1355, a mammoth 158-page omni­bus bill, which includes language that restricts the oppor­tun­ity and abil­ity of citizens and grass­roots organ­iz­a­tions to conduct voter regis­tra­tion drives, reduces the number of days in the state’s early voting period, and elim­in­ates the abil­ity for registered voters who have recently moved between Flor­ida counties to provide notice of their change of address on elec­tion day and still cast a regu­lar ballot.

As the Bren­nan Center’s Lee Rowland wrote earlier, the burdens of this bill will fall dispro­por­tion­ately on low-income and minor­ity voters: the very Flor­idi­ans that already face the biggest hurdles to vote.  And the groups that try to register these voters, from student organ­izers to the League of Women Voters, could be penal­ized for their attempts to bring more eligible citizens into our demo­cracy.

Five of Flor­id­a’s counties are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to submit elec­tion changes to the federal govern­ment for review.  States can do this either by seek­ing “preclear­ance” from the Depart­ment of Justice, or by filing a lawsuit before a federal court in the District of Columbia.  The state of Flor­ida origin­ally submit­ted the new law to the Depart­ment of Justice for review, and the Bren­nan Center, along­side the League of Women Voters of Flor­ida, the Lawyers’ Commit­tee, and Demo­cra­cia USA joined forces to submit detailed comments to the Depart­ment demon­strat­ing that the law reduced oppor­tun­it­ies for voting and unlaw­fully restric­ted voter regis­tra­tion – and in the process, dispro­por­tion­ately hurt Flor­id­a’s minor­ity voters.

Before the DOJ issued its ruling on the Flor­ida law, Flor­ida pulled the contro­ver­sial provi­sions of its elec­tion law from the Justice Depart­ment’s review and chose to pursue approval of the changes in court, prompt­ing the League of Women Voters of Flor­ida and Demo­cra­cia (now a voting rights project of the National Coun­cil of La Raza, or NCLR), repres­en­ted by attor­neys at the Bren­nan Center and the Lawyers’ Commit­tee to announce that they would, in turn, file their objec­tions with the court.  The groups have filed for—and were gran­ted—in­ter­ven­tion in the case to form­ally oppose the contro­ver­sial new restric­tions on voting and voter regis­tra­tion imposed by H.B. 1355.

The groups argue the law will erect unne­ces­sary barri­ers to voting and voter regis­tra­tion and will dispro­por­tion­ately harm Flor­id­a’s minor­ity voters. The two groups are repres­en­ted by attor­neys with the Bren­nan Center for Justice at New York Univer­sity School of Law and the Lawyers’ Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, work­ing in part­ner­ship with pro bono coun­sel from lead­ing law firm Bryan Cave.

The groups’ objec­tions focus on three key effects of the new law:

  1. The law will restrict the oppor­tun­ity and abil­ity of citizens and grass­roots organ­iz­a­tions to conduct voter regis­tra­tion drives, which dispro­por­tion­ately register African-Amer­ican  and Hispanic Flor­idi­ans to vote;
  2. The law will reduce the number of days in the state’s early voting period, and elim­in­ate the option of voting on the Sunday before an elec­tion – a day with the highest level of minor­ity turnout; and
  3. The law will make it impossible for registered voters who have recently moved between Flor­ida counties to provide notice of their change of address on elec­tion day and still cast a regu­lar ballot, placing a burden on voters who tend to move more frequently, includ­ing low-income and minor­ity voters.

On March 2, the Justice Depart­ment filed its posi­tion in that case, oppos­ing new provi­sions of Flor­id­a’s elec­tion law that place new burdens on community-based voter regis­tra­tion groups and cut down on the early voting period.

“As to the third-party voter regis­tra­tion and early voting changes enacted… respect­ively, the United States’ posi­tion is that the State has not met its burden, on behalf of its covered counties, that the two sets of proposed voting changes are entitled to preclear­ance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” the DOJ court filing said.

The Court heard oral argu­ment on June 21. On August 16, the court issued an opin­ion and find­ings of fact. The Court denied preclear­ance of the reduc­tion of days and change in hours for early voting.  It found that Flor­ida had not carried its burden of show­ing that the changes to early voting will not have a racially discrim­in­at­ory effect on voters in the covered counties. The Court gran­ted preclear­ance to proced­ural changes for registered voters who move between counties.  Rely­ing in part on Flor­id­a’s repres­ent­a­tion that provi­sional ballots cast by movers will be coun­ted absent evid­ence of fraud, the court found this change would not mater­i­ally burden minor­ity voters.

Court Orders and Find­ings:

Bren­nan Center Filings:

Other Court Filings

Objec­tion Letters filed with the DOJ:

Related Content: