A federal judge blocked much of Florida's year-old voter suppression law today as an unconstitutional infringement on speech and voting rights.
Last year, Florida''s Republican-controlled legislature pushed through what has been largely called a "reactionary" HB 1355, which imposes very restrictive rules on grassroots voter registration groups. The new rules require these "third-party" groups to turn in any completed registration forms within 48 hours after they are completed. If they are one minute late, the groups face having to pay fines.
What''s wrong with that, you may ask.
If you''re registering hundreds of people at a time and trying to make sure the forms were properly filled out before turning them in (so they will be acceptable to the Election Supervisor), you typically spent a little time going over the forms to see which could be submitted and which would have to be re-done.
Do that under the new suppression law and you''re in big trouble. Maybe even criminally. That the threat of fines and maybe jail time hovering over their heads, grassroot organizations like the Florida Voters League and the League of Women Voters decided to stand down and stop their registration efforts.
For anyone out there still thinking that "voting doesn''t really matter, because people are going to do what they want to do anyway," this ought to be a wake-up call. If voting really didn''t matter, Rick Scott and his legislative posse wouldn''t be going to such lengths to lock folks out of the process.
"The statute and rule impose a harsh and impractical 48-hour deadline for an organization to deliver applications to a voter registration office and effectively prohibit an organization from mailing applications in. And the statute and rule impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional even to the extent they do not violate the NVRA. [...]
". . . [t]he denial of a right of this magnitude under circumstances like these almost always inflicts irreparable harm, and . . . when a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever."
When I read the judge''s decision I got a little misty-eyed. Judge Hinkle is the first in what I hope will be a long line of unbiased and fair federal court judges who look at these ridiculous voter suppression laws and just say "no." I was always taught that the hallmark of a democracy is the right of the people to vote. People (i.e., "third parties") who help other people register to exercise that right are therefore to be encouraged and celebrated, not threatened with fines and going to jail.
The goal of these laws is unmistakenly clear: minority registration is down significantly from 2008-- five percent for Latinos and seven percent for blacks. And supporters of these laws don''t even care that you know what their agenda happens to be.
There''s only one way to combat this arrogance-- by voting these folks out of office and forcing them to wave their arrogance around on the sidelines of the political parade.