The Big Election Law News Today Comes from Florida, NOT from John Edwards’ Trial

This is a very major development given how close the polling is in Florida and other battleground states for the presidency.

A federal district court has issued a preliminary injunction barring its enforcement of some of its new onerous restrictions on third party voter registration drives as violative of the NVRA (motor-voter law).  The restrictions were so bad that the League of Women Voters stopped registering voters there for fear of prosecution.  (It was also the subject of this biting piece from Stephen Colbert.)

A snippet from the judge’s discussion of the requirement that registration forms be turned in within 48 hours of signing:

Even so, the state has little if any legitimate interest in setting the deadline at 48 hours. The short deadline, coupled with substantial penalties for noncompliance, make voter-registration drives a risky business. If the goal is to discourage voter-registration drives and thus also to make it harder for new voters to register, the 48-hour deadline may succeed. But if the goal is to further the state’s legitimate interests without unduly burdening the rights of voters and voter registration organizations, 48 hours is a bad choice.

Still, lines must be drawn somewhere, and choosing the specific time limit, so long as the limit is not unconstitutional, is the job of the Legislature, not the court. It is not at all clear that a well crafted 48-hour provision could survive constitutional scrutiny, but that issue need not be decided at this time. This statute and this rule are not well crafted. To the contrary, they are virtually unintelligible, close to the point, if not past the point, at which a statute—especially one that regulates First Amendment rights and is accompanied by substantial penalties—becomes void for vagueness.

I expect the next step will be that Florida will attempt to get this overturned at the Eleventh Circuit, though I think it will be a hard argument to make given the fact-intensive nature of the judge’s ruling and the deferential standard for reviewing such preliminary injunction motions.

If this ruling stands, I expect a large push, especially (but not only) from Democratically-aligned groups, to register voters in Florida this summer.

I have always said that these Florida restrictions, rather than voter id laws, are more likely to have an effect on the presidential election, and other elections.

MORE in this Brennan Center release.

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