Federal court tosses elections lawsuitby Dara Kam | October 18th, 2011
A federal judge in Miami has thrown out a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott and his administration over the state’s new elections laws.
U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore ruled that the ACLU, which filed the lawsuit, lacked standing, that the case was moot and that it’s too early to rule on whether the new law is unconstitutional.
Scott applauded the decision.
“I have always been confident that our elections have been conducted fairly and meet every legal requirement. Today’s decision only confirms that opinion. As we draw nearer to nationally significant elections in 2012, I will continue to ensure the integrity and fairness of Florida elections,” Scott said in a statement.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit after Secretary of State Kurt Browning began statewide implementation of election law changes, approved by lawmakers this spring and signed into law by Scott. The civil rights group accused of Browning of implementing the changes without preclearance from federal officials as required under the 1965 Voting Rights Act for five Florida counties.
But since filing the lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Justice has signed off on all but four of the most controversial portions of the elections law. Browning is instead seeking approval from a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., on those sections. The changes yet to be approved would reduce the number of early voting days, set new rules for groups conducting voter registration drives, require voters changing out-of-county addresses at the polls to cast provisional ballots and make it more difficult to get citizen initiatives on the ballot. Critics object the changes are intended to keep low-income, minority and college student voters – all of whom helped President Obama sweep into the White House three years ago – from casting ballots next November.
The ACLU had argued that because Florida law requires elections laws to go into effect statewide, the elections law should be put on hold until the preclearance is attained for the five Florida counties – Collier,Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties.
But Moore ruled Tuesday that the ACLU lacked standing because it had not been harmed by the new law. And even though the Florida League of Women Voters has stopped doing voter registration drives, nothing in the law forced them to drop the activity, Moore found.
“The Court cannot locate in the pleadings any harm or any threat of actual or imminent harm as required for constitutional standing,” Moore wrote in his dismissal.
In addition, the new laws are not being implemented in the covered counties.
“If the record indicated either actual enforcement or an intent to enforce without preclearance, this issue would be ripe for adjudication. lnstead, the laws remain unimplemented and unenforced in the covered counties and the remaining sections have been submitted to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia,” he wrote.
Last week, Browning asked the Washington judges to expedite their review of the elections laws and also challenged the constitutionality of the “preclearance” requirement.
“If the ACLU continues to believe as we do that Florida’s 67 counties should implement election law at the same time, they should support our amended complaint in the federal district court in Washington, D.C., that the coverage formula subjecting five of the state’s counties to preclearance must be declared unconstitutional and removed from law,” Browning said in a statement issued after Moore’s Tuesday ruling.