People march in Jacksonville to support Amendment 4 in 2018. Florida Rights Restoration Coalition photo.
The League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against Florida’s Secretary of State Cord Byrd, claiming that the state’s voter registration application form violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).
The groups allege that the form’s lack of information regarding the voter’s eligibility requirements for those with previous criminal convictions “creates confusion, impedes the organizations’ voter registration activities and puts people in danger of criminal penalties,” according to a press release.
In addition, the plaintiffs are calling for the court to declare that the current voter application registration form should be thrown out, and for the state to “convey” the revised application and its content to Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, so that they “may develop a voter registration application that is the same in content, format and size as the uniform statewide uniform voter registration application” as currently prescribed in state law, according to the lawsuit.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee.
Secretary of State Byrd is currently abroad and on an international trade mission with Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Voting rights groups and Democratic lawmakers have said that the state needs to create a database system to inform felons who have completed their sentence but still owe court fines, fees or restitution to determine if they are legally eligible to vote.
The lack of a central voter database has been a major issue in Florida ever since the Legislature implemented the 2018 constitutional amendment allowing people who had completed their criminal sentences (with the exceptions of those convicted of murder and sexual offenses) to have their right to vote restored – but only after they paid all of their outstanding legal financial obligations, sharply reducing the eligible pool of potential new voters.
Those same groups have been protesting a nearly 100-page election bill moving through the Florida Legislature this week that they claim puts the onus on the voter, and not the state, to determine if a citizen is eligible to vote.
A provision in the bill includes a requirement that a written statement be added to the voter registration card sent out to voters from their supervisors of elections office that says that the card is proof of registration but is not legal verification of eligibility to vote.
“Our state has a moral and legal duty to inform prospective voters of their eligibility to register,” said Cecile M. Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida in a written statement. “It is imperative that Floridians with past felony convictions understand whether they are eligible to register to vote, particularly when the state is targeting those who misunderstand this with criminal prosecution. The state must fulfill the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act and protect its residents.”
“Florida has a fundamental obligation to ensure that all citizens can fully understand, access, and exercise their voting rights,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP in a statement. “Yet, the state has fallen short of fulfilling its obligations because it requires returning citizens to fill out a flawed voter registration form and without any clear guidance.”
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