The Lawyers’ Committee, along with the law firm of Bryan Cave and the Brennan Center for Justice, represented the National Council of La Raza (“NCLR”) and the League of Women Voters of Florida (“LWV”) as intervenors in this litigation to oppose preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of new restrictions on voting and voter registration enacted by the State of Florida in 2011.
The election provisions at issue in the litigation included:
- Multiple limitations on the ability of citizens and grassroots organizations to conduct voter registration drives, including pre-registration with the state before conducting voter registration activities, monthly accounting of all registration forms used and not used in voter registration drives, and a requirement that completed registration forms generally be delivered to election officials within 48 hours of receipt from the voter;
- A reduction in the number of “early voting” days preceding elections; and
- A provision that registered voters who move between Florida counties, and who do provide a change-of-address notice to election officials prior to an election, may only vote by casting a provisional ballot and no longer may cast a regular ballot.
At the time of this litigation, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required that covered jurisdictions obtain federal preclearance for all new voting practices and procedures. Preclearance could be obtained by the jurisdiction demonstrating, either to the federal trial court in Washington, DC or the Justice Department, that its new voting provisions neither could have the purpose nor would have the effect of discriminating on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. Five counties in Florida were covered by Section 5: Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe.
On August 16, 2012, the three-judge district court issued an opinion unanimously denying preclearance to the early voting changes, concluding that they would have a prohibited retrogressive effect on African American voters. The court found that African Americans rely on early voting to a greater degree than white voters, and that the reduction in the number of early voting days would impose a material burden on their ability to effectively exercise the right to vote. The court noted that, under the pre-existing law, there were 96 hours of early voting prior to each election whereas, under the new law, the reduction in the number of days could result in cutting the number of early voting hours in half. The court indicated, however, that the changes might not be retrogressive if, instead, the covered counties were to exercise their discretion to maintain 96 hours of early voting hours by increasing the early voting hours for each of the remaining early voting days. (After the court’s ruling, the covered counties committed to 96 hours of early voting for the November 2012 election, and the Justice Department accordingly precleared the early voting changes, on September 12, 2012.)
With regard to Florida’s new restrictions on voter registration drives, a federal judge in Florida enjoined most of the changes in a ruling issued on May 31, 2012. Thereafter, the State settled the case to eliminate most of the changes, and the settlement was precleared by the Justice Department, thus mooting the voter registration issue in the preclearance lawsuit. With regard to the change affecting voters who move between counties, the district court precleared that change in its August 16 ruling.
Florida also challenged the constitutionality of Section 5. However, after this claim was fully briefed, the State dropped its challenge when the preclearance issues were fully resolved.
District Court Filings
- Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, filed jointly by Intervenors and the Justice Department
- Reply by Intervenors and Justice Department
- Florida’s Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law
- Reply by Florida
- Defendant-Intervenors’ Memorandum in Support of Summary Judgment
- Justice Department Memorandum in Support of Summary Judgment
- Florida Motion for Summary Judgment