Voter, civil rights groups file suit against Florida over controversial election changes

Two lawsuits filed alleging racial discrimination, attempt to impede access to voting

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, an election worker stamps a vote-by-mail ballot dropped off by a voter before placing it in an official ballot drop box before at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral, Fla. Ballot drop boxes were enormously popular during the 2020 election, with few problems reported. Yet they have drawn the attention of Republican lawmakers in key states who say security concerns warrant new restrictions. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, an election worker stamps a vote-by-mail ballot dropped off by a voter before placing it in an official ballot drop box before at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral, Fla. Ballot drop boxes were enormously popular during the 2020 election, with few problems reported. Yet they have drawn the attention of Republican lawmakers in key states who say security concerns warrant new restrictions. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Moments after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis put ink to paper signing a controversial election bill into law, civil and voter rights groups filed federal lawsuits against the state and election officials saying the new law impedes access to voting for minority and elderly voters.

DeSantis signed a sweeping elections bill into law Thursday that he and other Republicans said would place guardrails against fraud, even as they acknowledged there were no serious signs of voting irregularities last November. Democrats and voter rights advocates have dubbed the SB 90 the “Voter Suppression Bill” and said the partisan move will make it harder for some voters to cast ballots.

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DeSantis staged the signing on a live broadcast of Fox & Friends Thursday morning, flanked by a small group of GOP legislators in Palm Beach County. Other media organizations were shut out of the event.

Democrats and voter advocates have assailed the law as a blatant attempt impede access to the polls so that Republicans might regain an advantage.

League of Women Voters of Florida joined the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and others in assailing the new law in a federal lawsuit filed minutes after the signing. The lawsuit was filled in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee.

“The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color. It’s a despicable attempt by a one party ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The lawsuit names Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, State Attorney General Ashley Moody and all Florida supervisors of elections as defendants.

The bill reduces access to vote-by-mail drop boxes with new restrictions and effectively bans volunteers and organizations from helping voters return their ballots, according to the lawsuit.

“SB 90 does not impede all of Florida’s voters equally,” the complaint reads. “It is crafted to and will operate to make it more difficult for certain types of voters to participate in the state’s elections, including those voters who generally wish to vote with a vote-by-mail ballot and voters who have historically had to overcome substantial hurdles to reach the ballot box, such as Florida’s senior voters, youngest voters, and minority voters.

A separate lawsuit by the NAACP and Common Cause alleges that the new law makes it more difficult for people who are Black, Latino or disabled to vote.

“For far too long, Florida’s lawmakers and elected officials have created a vast array of hurdles that have made it more difficult for these and other voters to make their voices heard,” the groups said in their lawsuit, which they filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, the state capital.

While Georgia has become the current flashpoint of the national battle over elections laws, other states — led by Republicans still unsettled by then-President Donald Trump’s loss in November — have moved to rewrite elections laws. The national campaign to do so is motivated by Trump’s unfounded allegations that irregularities in the election process, particularly in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, led to his loss — a baseless claim that inspired the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Georgia law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.

Some of the changes in Florida’s election rules contain similar provisions. Democrats acknowledge that the Florida law won’t be as draconian as the one recently adopted by its neighbor to the north.

More than 11 million Florida voters cast their ballots in the 2020 general election and nearly 5 million by mail. Democratic voters submitted 680,000 ballots by mail than Republicans.