U.S. judge demands more information in lawsuit over Florida voting restrictions
Legislature changed a provision being challenged by civil and voting rights groups
Florida’s Old Capitol and New Capitol, viewed from the Leon County Courthouse on March 21, 2022. Credit: Michael Moline
A federal judge has ordered parties to a lawsuit targeting last year’s state election restrictions to explain how a bill the Florida Legislature passed during its recent legislative session might affect the legal challenge.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee wasn’t happy that neither lawyers for the state nor civil- and voting-rights groups litigating over 2021’s SB 90 had informed him of the recent legislative changes (SB 524).
“This court is currently conducting a two-week jury trial while also working to review the voluminous record and drafting a final order on the merits following the bench trial in this case,” Walker wrote in an order posted on Monday.
“Yet no lawyer for any party has alerted the court of imminent changes to the laws at issue before this court — though the parties appeared to have been actively monitoring the latest election legislation as it moved through the Florida Legislature these past several weeks.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed for the restrictions during both years; official records suggest the Legislature has yet to submit SB 524 for his signature.
Among the SB 90 restrictions challenged by the League of Women Voters of Florida, the NAACP, Florida Rising, and others is a requirement that third-party groups conducting voter registration must tell people they’re trying to sign up that there’s a chance the groups might neglect to file their forms with the local supervisor of elections or Department of State.
Voter registration groups testified during a trial that opened in late January that these warnings were discouraging people from registering.
(Also challenged are SB 90’s limits on availability of ballot drop boxes, additional rules for third-party voter registration drives, ending the ability to provide food and water to people waiting in line to vote, and $25,000 fines for supervisors who stray from the new legal requirements.)
SB 524 changes the warning language: Now, it would be printed on the official voter-registration form. (The bill also gives DeSantis the voter-fraud investigation squad he’d asked for plus more frequent purging of voter rolls.)
“Accordingly, the parties must file on or before 5 p.m. (ET), Wednesday, March 23, 2022, an expedited supplemental brief addressing what impact, if any, Florida’s Senate Bill 524 would have on the challenged provisions and claims before this court in the event the governor signs the legislation into law,” Walker wrote.
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