TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked parts of Florida's new election law that places restrictions on voter registration drives, saying the provisions were harsh and impractical and imposed requirements that served little — if any — purpose.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled the League of Women Voters of Florida and other two groups challenging the provisions are likely to prevail in arguing the restrictions violate constitutional voting rights.
One of the blocked provisions requires groups or individuals signing up voters to submit their registration forms to election officials within 48 hours of collecting them. The previous law allowed up to 10 days. Others impose what the judge called "burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements."
"Allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives — thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote — promotes democracy," Hinkle wrote.
Deirdre Macnab, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said the group wants to study the ruling before deciding whether to resume registration efforts. The ruling did not block other parts of the third-party voter registration section.
The league suspended those activities after Gov. Rick Scott signed the law last year.
"Delighted isn't a strong enough word for the way we feel," Macnab said.
"We've got volunteers who are ready," Macnab added. "It doesn't matter how hot it is this summer."
The third-party registration provisions are in one of three sections of the election law that also are being challenged in another case that's pending before a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. The other sections reduce early voting days and require voters to cast provisional ballots, which often go uncounted, if they change their addresses from another county at polling places on Election Day.
Opponents, such as the league, say the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature is intended to suppress turnout by minorities, the elderly and young people who tend to vote Democratic. Republicans contend the restrictions are needed to prevent voting fraud.
Florida is one of several states where Republican legislatures and governors have enacted election laws, including voter identification requirements, that Democrats and other critics say are designed to suppress voting.
Scott issued a statement saying he was satisfied with Hinkle's ruling because the judge declined to include other parts of the voter registration section in his preliminary injunction.
Those include requirements for third-party groups such as the league and their agents to register with the state and place identification numbers on the backs of all applications they collect. The judge also left untouched new enforcement and electronic filing provisions, concluding they are not objectionable or impose minimal burdens.
"This is a vast improvement over the previous system that will help protect the integrity, accountability, and enforcement of the voter registration process," Scott said.
Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry was disappointed because Hinkle blocked the 48-hour deadline. Curry called it a "modest requirement" to "guarantee that new voters know with certainly" they've been registered.
Department of State spokesman Chris Cate said the agency was looking at its options, which could include an appeal or resolving the judge's concerns through administrative rules. Cate said the portions of the law Hinkle left standing are more important than those he blocked.
The ruling drew praise from Democrats including Eric Jotkoff, a spokesman for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, which conducts its own voter registration drives and trains volunteers.
"We're working to get as many Americans involved as possible, which is why we welcome the preliminary injunction," Jotkoff said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said he also was glad to see Hinkle's ruling.
"This law clearly was designed to stop people from voting," the Florida Democrat said in a statement.
Other groups challenging the registration provisions are the Rock the Vote group that focuses on young people and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Foundation.
The case pending in Washington is a court review of the three election law sections to determine if they comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department as well as several interveners, including the League of Women Voters, contend they violate the law by suppressing minority voting.Tags: