TALLAHASSEE — As challenges to a new Florida elections law stack up, a case filed Monday in federal court alleges that part of the law placing requirements on voter-registration organizations is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the groups HeadCount and the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters Corp., is the fourth challenge to the law, which was passed in April by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed in May by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The latest case is narrowly tailored to one section of the law that involves what are known as third-party voter-registration organizations.
The law, in part, requires the organizations to inform voter-registration applicants that the organizations might not meet legal deadlines for delivering forms to elections officials. Also, the organizations are required to tell applicants how to register online.
The challenge, filed in federal district court in Tallahassee, contends the law (SB 90) requires a “misleading warning” and violates First Amendment rights.
“The mandatory disclaimer serves no legitimate governmental function or purpose, as there is no evidence that Floridians have been confused about the nature of community-based voter registration activity,” said the lawsuit, filed by attorneys for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Fair Elections Center. “There is no suggestion that plaintiffs or similar voter registration groups have regularly turned in late forms or that they would make anything other than their best efforts to timely submit forms.”
The lawsuit also said the requirements “serve to significantly impede plaintiffs’ mission of connecting with new voters and those without Florida driver’s licenses and printer access (who must print, sign, and submit their applications created online in order to register to vote) because in-person registration is more effective for reaching these prospective voters and field registration using paper forms is the most effective means of promoting voter registration at the events, festivals, and communities where plaintiffs operate.”
The law was one of the most controversial issues of the 2021 legislative session and came after a relatively smooth 2020 election in Florida. Republican lawmakers contended changes were needed to ensure election security and prevent fraud in future elections.
During an appearance May 6 on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” to sign the bill, DeSantis called it the “strongest election integrity measures in the country” and said it “keeps us ahead of the curve” after the 2020 election.
Much of the attention about the law has focused on additional restrictions placed on voting by mail. The other three lawsuits challenging the measure were filed last month in federal court in Tallahassee and are pending.
The new lawsuit said HeadCount is a national organization that conducts voter-registration efforts at concerts and music festivals, while the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters is a Jacksonville-based nonprofit group that helps register voters.
By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida