Florida Judge Blocks Restrictive Voter Registration Law

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle's injunction comes at a critical moment.

By Brentin Mock May 31, 2012

Today, a federal judge blocked key parts of Florida’s restrictive HB 1355 voting law, which after it was passed last year placed onerous demands on organizations wishing to register voters and stage voter registration drives. The Brennan Center for Justice is calling this a "a breakthrough victory for Florida voters and voting rights advocates nationwide." The mandates placed upon voter registration organizations were so maddeningly difficult to navigate that it caused The League of Women Voters to shut down their registration operations.

The Florida chapter president Deirdre McNab told Al Sharpton on his show, "These new laws frighten people from registering voters."

It was League of Women Voters’ lawsuit against former Secretary of State Kurt Browning that brought U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s injunction.

Said Judge Hinkle: "Together speech and voting are constitutional rights of special significance; they are the rights most protective of all others, joined in this respect by the ability to vindicate one’s rights in a federal court … [W]hen a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever, … And allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives — thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote — promotes democracy."

According to the Brennan Center for Justice (PDF), black and Latino Floridians are more than twice as likely to register to vote through community-based voter registration drives than white voters. According to the New York Times, 81,471 fewer Floridians have registered to vote as of May 2012 than during the same period before the 2008 elections.

The voter registraion restrictions were one of just many problems with Florida’s HB 1355 law. The law also impacts early voting, particularly on the Sunday before Election Day, which for at least the last three major elections, thousands of African American churches used for the "Souls to the Polls" campaign. That campaign was largely instrumental in helping President Obama get elected and bringing record voter turnout among Floridians of color. I hope that Judge Hinkle’s decision today is just the first step in knocking down the many other provisions in this bill that place unfair burdens on people of color from trying to participate in democracy freely and fairly.

For more information on registration numbers in Florida among black and Latino voters, see my previous blog, "Is Black and Latino Voter Registration Threatened or Not?" Also, here’s a press release from the Brennan Center for Justice and a copy of the judge’s decision (PDF).