Judge Says Florida Voter Registration Rules to Be Blocked

Florida restrictions on voter registration groups, passed by the state’s Republican lawmakers and governor, will probably be permanently blocked by a U.S. judge who earlier said the rules were probably unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee said yesterday he would grant an Aug. 10 request from both Florida and voting rights groups for a permanent injunction blocking the rules as soon as a federal appeals court dismisses the state’s appeal.

Hinkle ruled May 31 that conditions the state had imposed on groups signing up voters are probably unconstitutional. The League of Women Voters of Florida and Rock the Vote sued to overturn the laws. Hinkle said the plaintiffs and defendants both requested a permanent injunction “resolving all issues among all parties.”

Fights over voting access are intensifying in swing states, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where both Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns see a possibility of victory. Voter cases are also under way involving Alabama, Texas and South Carolina.

On Aug. 28, a federal court in Washington rejected a Republican-supported plan to redraw electoral districts in Texas, finding it discriminated against Hispanic and black voters.

Yesterday, minority voting rights activists asked a three-judge panel to convene all parties in the Texas redistricting dispute as soon as possible to devise a plan to keep November elections on track.

South Carolina, meanwhile, is in trial before a special three-judge panel seeking approval of its law requiring citizens to show photographic identification before casting a ballot.

Photo ID Case

In a separate case, Texas said it won’t be able to implement its photo ID law in time for the November elections unless a court rules by the end of the week.

Florida officials voluntarily dismissed their appeal of Hinkle’s May ruling, according to an Aug. 10 filing in the U.S. appeals court in Atlanta. Hinkle, who was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, said in yesterday’s order that he will grant a permanent injunction if the appeals court directs him to do so or if the appeal of his ruling is dismissed.

“This order is a decisive victory for Florida voters,” said Lee Rowland, counsel for the Brennan Center’s democracy program, one of the attorneys who argued the case for the plaintiffs. “The Florida Legislature has tried repeatedly to stifle access to voter registration opportunities.”

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s media office referred inquiries about the ruling to the governor. Republican Governor Rick Scott’s communications office didn’t respond to an e-mail message seeking comment on the ruling.

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

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