Voting-rights advocacy groups are the latest to file a legal challenge to FL’s new voting law

At the Leon County Courthouse, 2020 voters could vote early in person or by dropping their ballots in a drop box. Credit: Diane Rado

A new Florida law imposing limits on voting by mail has attracted another lawsuit, this one by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Fair Elections Center.

The groups, which litigate in support of constitutional rights including access to the ballot, allege the measure requires voter-registration organizations to potentially mislead people they are trying to sign up.

The action, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, cites language requiring organizations to tell any potential voter that they “may not” lodge their forms with elections officials on time and suggest they register through the state’s web portal instead.

“This inaccurate warning ignores that plaintiffs make and/or will make every effort to timely submit registration applications in furtherance of their missions and compels them and other non-governmental organizations, their staff, and their volunteers who assist Floridians to register to vote to issue a self-denigrating, misleading, and contradictory warning to a voter registration applicant when they accept an application for the purpose of submitting it to election officials on the applicant’s behalf,” the complaint says.

The lawsuit surrounds SB 90, a voting reform bill that was approved by the Florida Legislature during the spring session and recently became law. Critics have called the measure voter suppression.

“SB 90 also interferes with voters’ opportunity to register, impedes plaintiffs’ participatory messages and missions, interferes with plaintiff organizations and their associated individuals’ constitutionally protected, core political speech. Furthermore, SB 90 forces plaintiffs to adhere to new requirements and implement operational changes that will render their voter registration activities more costly and resource-intensive and less effective.”

The complaint asks the court to declare those provisions unconstitutional and prohibit their enforcement. It names Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Attorney General Ashley Moody as defendants. Lee administers elections in Florida.

Plaintiff organizations include the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters and HeadCount, which target marginalized young people, communities of color, and former prisoners regaining their voting rights.

“We believe that peer-based community voter registration outreach is essential to democracy and groups like ours must meet voters where they are. The new requirements not only discredit our work but put democracy itself at risk,” Tappan Vickery, director of voter engagement for HeadCount, said in a written statement.

“Voter registration organizations serve their communities by building trusted relationships with Floridians for whom voting and participation may not otherwise be accessible,” Michelle Kanter Cohen, policy director and senior counsel at Fair Elections Center, said.

“We are bringing this lawsuit to protect our clients’ right to organize through voter registration activities, communicating their message that our democracy works better when all our voices are heard.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law on May 6.

The League of Women Voters of Florida has filed a separate lawsuit in alliance with the Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans, and several individual voters. The Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida, and Common Cause have sued, too.