Florida Appeals Order Blocking Voter-Registration Rules

Florida officials told a federal appeals court that they may seek to reverse a lower court order blocking the enforcement of the state’s restrictions on voter- registration groups.

The Florida secretary of state, attorney general and director of the division of elections filed the notice yesterday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta in a case brought by the League of Women Voters. The ruling they are challenging bars requirements that voter-drive groups turn over registration materials to the state within 48 hours of completion or face fines of as much as $1,000.

U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee on May 31 ruled that portions of the law “severely restrict” voter registration drives and place “harsh and impractical” limits on groups that conduct them.

The League’s lawsuit is among multiple cases challenging voter-registration rules in the state. In a separate case, Hinkle rejected a U.S. government effort to block a Florida measure seeking to remove noncitizens from voter rolls, finding that the state has already abandoned the program.

Diana Kasdan of the Brennan Center for Justice, a lawyer for the League of Women Voters, said the group is working on a settlement with the state that may make Hinkle’s injunction permanent.

Seeking Resolution

The notice of appeal “doesn’t signify any change in what we represented to the court last week, which is that both the plaintiffs and the state are working to resolve this without further litigation,” she said.

Chris Cate, a spokesman for Florida’s Department of State, said the appeal was filed to “preserve our rights in the case.”

“However, we are working on finalizing a settlement with the plaintiffs to resolve the remaining disputes in the case and maintain our primary objective, which is to preserve the accountability provisions of the new law,” he said in a statement e-mailed today.

Not all of the provisions challenged in the suit were blocked by the judge. Hinkle found that some parts of the statute were legal, including provisions requiring groups to provide information to the state in electronic format and those allowing violation of the measure to trigger civil actions by the state.

Voter Drives

Voter-drive groups sued in December 2011, alleging that the law ran afoul of the federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and was causing organizations to curtail their efforts to increase voter participation.

Along with the possibility of fines for not turning in documents on time, the law would also have imposed a requirement that registration-group volunteers sign a form suggesting they faced felony charges if they sent applications containing false information, even if the volunteers didn’t know or have reason to believe the information was false. Those provisions were also blocked by the injunction.

The case is League of Women Voters of Florida v. Browning, 11-628, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida (Tallahassee).

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