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State seeks to block subpoenas in challenges to Florida’s new election law

By Christina Vazquez | WPLG-TV Miami, October 28, 2021

The state is looking to block subpoenas filed by groups who oppose Florida’s new election law that would require a representative from the governor’s office to testify about Senate Bill 90.

In one motion the Executive Office of the Governor argues it is moving to “quash the third-party subpoena” served on it by the League of Women Voters of Florida Inc., et al. related to its legal challenge arguing that the “Governor’s Office was given inadequate time to prepare” for the “wide-ranging topics in the subpoena.”

The motions come after a federal judge earlier this month in a series of rulings cleared the way for several challenges to the state elections law to move forward.

Florida is one of several Republican-led states to enact tighter voting rules, which several nonprofits have argued will restrict or suppress voting for a variety of reasons outlined in a series of related lawsuits.

What is puzzling to some, is that the state’s new election law came after the Gov. Ron DeSantis praised Florida’s election process following the 2020 election. Just hours after President Donald Trump was declared the winner in Florida, DeSantis held a news conference, saying, “the people are looking at Florida — why can’t these states be more like Florida? The way Florida did it inspires confidence — in 2020 we are being looked at as the state that did it right.”

Months later, a May news release on the governor’s website stated that the “sanctity” of Florida elections needs to be “safeguarded” with the new elections bill.

Several groups to include the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Rising Together, UnidosUS, Black Voters Matter Fund, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, Inc., Paralyzed Veterans of America Florida Chapter, and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, have filed lawsuits challenging various parts of SB90.

One of the challenges is from the Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters Corp., et. al. which focuses on what they call a “misleading” disclaimer the new election law requires voter registration groups to provide to voters.

“There was really no rationale offered for the changes that are being made here that are making it harder to vote,” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, policy director and senior counsel of Fair Elections Center and co-counsel on that Harriet Tubman Freedom Fighters challenge with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Of concern, a notification that the new election law says third-party voter registration organizations must deliver to the “applicant at the time the application is collected” which per the legislative text needs to state that the “organization might not deliver the application to the division or the supervisor of elections in the county in which the applicant resides in less than 14 days or before registration closes for the next ensuing election.”

Kanter Cohen told Local 10 News that the election law’s “disclaimer” essentially requires “community voter registration groups to undermine their own work” by having those groups tell potential applicants that they “might deliver their applications on time” which she argues if “of course not their goal” since the aim of voter registration drives is to register people to vote.

“It is unlike any other provision in the country,” Kanter Cohen said. “Florida’s legislature in enacting this bill is continuing a very sad and unfortunate history of trying to restrict who can have their voices heard and who can be a full member of our democracy.”

In the case brought by the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, et. al., the nonprofit groups argue that “the brunt of the harm will be borne by Black voters, Latino voters, elderly voters, and voters with disabilities.” The defendants in that case include Florida’s Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Florida’s 67 county supervisors of elections.

In an amended complaint the plaintiffs include a “detailed description of Florida’s history of racially discriminatory voting restrictions.”

In this Oct. 8 ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker stated that “Defendant Lee’s argument that restrictions on mail-in ballots do not implicate the right to vote is unsound and unsupported by precedent.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida has argued that SB90 “is crafted to and will operate to make it more difficult for certain types of voters to participate in the state’s elections.” In that challenge, the defendants include Lee, Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody and the state’s 67 supervisors of elections.

In the League of Women Voters of Florida, Inc. et. al.,-related ruling Walker stated that in her omnibus motion to dismiss, “Defendant Lee first moves to dismiss all claims alleging that SB90 places an undue burden on the right to vote” with two key arguments, “that regulations on vote-by-mail ballots do not implicate the right to vote at all”; and, that the “Plaintiffs’ claims fail because they focus on the burdens placed on ‘vulnerable’ voters instead of the electorate as a whole.”

Walker writes plainly in that ruling: “She is wrong on both points.”

Cecile M. Scoon, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida tells Local 10 News that “the League’s suit came forth as we strongly believe that this new law (SB 90) will not increase the public’s confidence in the state’s election administration or ensure election integrity — it will do the opposite.”

“Our democracy works better when each of us has a voice,” said Kanter Cohen, “and bills like SB90 are aimed at getting in the way of that and we are challenging this bill to make sure that our clients can do the work that they need to do and that voters can have their voices heard.”

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