House Administration Democrats announced their support for a decision by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle striking down an overly burdensome piece of Florida's exceptionally restrictive election law aimed at deterring new voter registrations. The controversial provision placed substantial burdens on third-party groups that register voters, and is just one of many voter suppression laws passed by state legislatures in recent months. In his written opinion, Judge Hinkle condemned the law stating, "This statute and this rule are not well crafted. To the contrary, they are virtually unintelligible" and they "plainly run afoul of the National Voting Rights Act."
"This is progress," said House Administration Ranking Member Robert Brady (D-PA). "This fight is too important and the stakes are too high to allow for even the appearance of an infringement on the right to vote. This is a victory for our democracy, the Constitution, and for the voters of the state of Florida. This decision is an encouraging sign as we continue to fight to expand access to the ballot for all eligible Americans."
Florida's law imposed an unrealistic 48-hour deadline on third-party groups, a provision Judge Hinkle termed as a goal to "discourage voter registration drives" and "make it harder for new voters to register." Failure to comply with the law resulted in substantial fines or criminal sentences for community organizations and even high school teachers simply trying to encourage civic participation to their students. The threat of such penalties resulted in non-partisan organizations like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote to forego their usual registration drives in Florida.
"Imposing criminal liability on groups whose only goal is to help Americans exercise their constitutional right to vote is grotesque and shameful," said Brady. "Anyone who makes a good-faith effort to foster the right to vote deserves commendation, not condemnation."
"Voting is a fundamental right and the judge's decision reaffirms that efforts to suppress legitimate independent grassroots voter registration are unconstitutional," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). "While this decision is welcomed, I remain concerned that this is one more troubling example of efforts being reported in the news across the country to stop voters who Republicans believe may vote for Democrats from participating in the 2012 election."
The injunction came down on the same day that the Department of Justice warned Florida election officials to cease the ongoing purge of eligible voters from their rolls.
"It is disappointing that Florida, the state whose shameful purge of thousands of eligible voters before the 2000 election led to one of the worst electoral crises in our history, would engage in a similarly misguided purge based on equally poor information in 2012," said Elections Subcommittee Ranking Member Gonzalez (D-TX). "It's shameful that any state government would actively seek to disfranchise its citizens and deny them their constitutionally protected right to vote in the 21st century. It's still worse that they would use a procedure that is so obviously unable to identify ineligible voters accurately and so certain to purge eligible voters instead. There is simply no justification for such a purge. There is no evidence of concerted voter fraud, in Florida or anywhere else in this country, but there is not just evidence but uncontroverted proof that this effort will deny eligible voters their right to vote."