Florida voting law put under the microscope in Federal court

By Anjali Huynh and Jane C. Timm, NBC News,  Jan. 31, 2022.

Civil rights groups went to federal court Monday morning to challenge Florida’s new restrictive voting law, lambasting state lawmakers for making it harder to vote.

Florida is one of 19 states that enacted new voting restrictions last year, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s stolen election lie. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 90 into law live on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends,” saying the bill would protect the “integrity and transparency” of Florida’s elections. But critics, mainly Democrats and voting and civil rights groups, argued that the laws will primarily harm minority voters and suppress turnout after historic numbers in 2020.

Groups including the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans, the Florida NAACP and Disability Rights Florida filed four lawsuits against Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, a Republican, which were later consolidated into a single suit, which is being tried remotely over videoconference.

The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee intervened to help defend the law.

The plaintiffs have challenged six provisions of S.B. 90, including its limits on the use of drop boxes, its requiring identification to apply for vote-by-mail ballots, its restrictions on third-party groups that register voters, its requiring voters to request mail ballots more frequently and its ban on helping voters or providing them with food and water as they wait in line. They argue that the challenged provisions violate constitutional, voting and free speech and expression rights, among other legal claims.

“If the Challenged Provisions of SB 90 are allowed to stand, countless eligible Floridians will find it unjustifiably harder to vote,” the plaintiffs wrote in a court filing.

Experts, advocates, election officials and state legislators are expected to testify.

Cecile Scoon, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, was the first witness Monday. Saying the law would hinder potential voters from registering to vote, she detailed many years of work helping voters register and participate in the election system.

“This last election season, I was so proud of the state of Florida, because we’ve had so many problems, hanging chads and this and that problem, and we finally got it right,” she told the court.

“These additional changes were not needed,” she continued. “It’s just limitations on ways to vote for fear of something happening.”

Of particular concern to Monday’s witnesses was the requirement that voter registration organizations must include disclaimers that they might not submit registrants’ applications on time.

Voting rights organizers, including Scoon, have said the disclaimer is misleading because it implies that the groups will not successfully register voters.

The second witness Monday, Esteban Garces, a co-executive director of the voter registration group Poder Latinx, said the disclaimer took canvassers more time and harmed their reputation as an organization.

“Our canvassers are not happy with having to essentially put ourselves out there as a not trustworthy organization,” Garces said.

He acknowledged that while 55 voter registration applications were not submitted on time last year — the result of two incidents in which they “hit a bump” in the delivery process — over 40,000 applications were successfully submitted.

“The disclaimer is still a misleading statement in that 99.9 percent of our voter registration applications have been submitted on time,” Garces said later during cross-examination. “While it might be true, it is misleading, because it forces us to cause our reputation harm.”