Last year, the Republican-held Florida legislature passed HB 1355, which imposed harsh new restrictions on third-party voter registration groups, requiring them to turn in completed registration forms 48 hours — to the minute — after completion, or face fines. Outside groups often register hundreds of people at a time and, before this law, had used a quality-control process that took days to ensure the accuracy of submitted forms. With the onerous restrictions now in place, some groups like the League of Women Voters were ultimately forced to cease registration drives in the Sunshine State.
In blocking the new law, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle wrote:
The statute and rule impose a harsh and impractical 48-hour deadline for an organization to deliver applications to a voter registration office and effectively prohibit an organization from mailing applications in. And the statute and rule impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional even to the extent they do not violate the NVRA. [...]
The plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not issued, first because the denial of a right of this magnitude under circumstances like these almost always inflicts irreparable harm, and second because when a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever.
Though state judges and the Department of Justice have already taken steps to prevent voter disenfranchisement, Hinkle’s decision is the first time a federal court has blocked one of the most recent round of state voter suppression laws.
Voters have already begun to experience the effects of new anti-voting laws. Minority voter registration is down significantly from the 2008 election. Among Latinos nationwide, voter registration has dropped five percent; for blacks, registration rates are down seven percent.
New York University’s Brennan Center, which studies voting rights issues, hailed the decision. “Florida’s law and others approved in the past year represent the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades,” said director Wendy Weiser. “Today’s decision will help turn the tide.”