Another federal lawsuit claims FL’s new election reforms attack voting rights of Black and Latino residents

By: - May 18, 2021 2:11 pm

Credit: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Voting rights and civil rights groups including UnidosUS, Equal Ground Education Fund, and Faith in Florida filed a legal challenge Tuesday against Florida’s controversial new election reforms, which curtail access to mail-in balloting and other aid to voters.

Their federal lawsuit charges that the reforms, already signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, disproportionately restrict voting access by Black and Latino voters and impede the groups’ efforts to expand voter registration and participation in elections.

The challenge was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, based in Tallahassee. It sues Secretary of State Laurel Lee, the state’s chief elections officer, and four county supervisors of elections representing all supervisors as a class.

“Florida’s recent legislation attacking the voting rights of its Black and Latino residents is like a virus attacking the human heart. Without a remedy to undo the effects, our democracy will die,” the newest federal lawsuit says in its introduction.

It goes on to argue that the law, crafted as Senate Bill 90 and approved by the Florida Legislature, illegally restricts access to ballot drop boxes and aid to voters in ways designed to inhibit turnout by minority voters, in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Further, it alleges the new law violates the plaintiffs’ rights to protected speech and expression by banning their efforts to engage “marginalized and excluded constituencies” in the democratic process.

“Among other successes of the 2020 election in Florida, Black and Latino voters achieved record turnout due to the massive investment of time and resources by organizations such as plaintiffs. A record 1.38 million Black voters and 1.8 million Latino voters participated in the 2020 General Election,” the filing says.

“In response to this unprecedented Black and Latino turnout, and in spite of the fact that Florida’s election was well-administered, safe and secure, the Florida legislature, with the support of Florida’s governor, began work to change Florida’s election procedures to make it harder for Black and Latino persons to vote.”

Here are the other plaintiffs in the new federal lawsuit:

Florida Rising Together, a nonprofit formed by merging the former Organize Florida and New Florida Majority, states in the court records that in 2020 it ran the state’s largest independent voter education and mobilization campaign, making 18 million calls to prospective voters, distributing mailers and sponsoring radio ads in multiple languages about various methods of voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

Equal Ground Education Fund, another nonprofit, aims to register and encourage voting among Black voters in Florida’s I-4 corridor.

Faith In Florida is a non-profit claiming 800 congregation community organizations in Florida that address systemic racial and economic issues.

UnidosUS in a nonprofit described as the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization. It says in court documents it helped register 71,160 voters in 2020, among other get-out-the-vote efforts.

Poder Latinx is a project of Tides Advocacy, a California-based nonprofit that works in Florida, Georgia and Arizona to expand civic engagement by Latinx communities, including voter-registration drives and bilingual poll-watching.

Hispanic Federation is nonprofit organizing and advocacy organization that advocates for Hispanic communities in Florida through education, health, environmental justice and voter engagement.

The lawsuit on those organizations’ behalf Tuesday was filed by by Advancement Project National Office, Demos, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Meanwhile, at least two other federal lawsuits are already pending against the new election laws. One challenge was filed on the day DeSantis enacted the laws by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans, and several individual voters.

Another challenge was filed by the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida, and Common Cause.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.