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Federal judge blocks ‘harsh and impractical’ Florida voter registration restrictions

Thursday, May 31st, 2012 by Dara Kam

A federal judge has issued an injunction barring enforcement of part of Florida’s controversial new election law, ruling that a 48-hour deadline for third party groups to turn in voter registration forms is “harsh and impractical.”

Tallahassee federal Judge Robert Hinkle left intact much of the rest of the law, passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year. Portions of that law are also being challenged in federal court in Washington.

The new law and associated rule “impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional” even if they do not violate the National Voting Rights Act, Hinkle wrote in a 27-page ruling issued today.

The League of Women Voters filed the lawsuit against former Secretary of State Kurt Browning last year after the law went into effect. The league said the new law forced them to stop voter registration drives in Florida after more than seven decades because of the onerous time requirements punishable by up to $1,000 in fines. A variety of other groups, including the ACLU of Florida, joined the lawsuit.

In granting the preliminary injunction, Hinkle ruled that “the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits of their challenge” to some of the provisions of the law and the rules and that voter registration was “working well” before the law was changed last year. Republican lawmakers insisted the new law was designed to discourage fraud.

But Hinkle, wrote, “allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives—thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote—promotes democracy.”

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