Florida’s historical pattern of voter discrimination is shutdown in League of Women Voters of Fla., Inc. v. Lee.

By: Laura Silva

Following widespread false claims of voter fraud during the November 2020 election, Republican-led states enacted numerous restrictions to voting rights ranging from stricter identification requirements to absentee voting limitations.[1]Proponents argue restrictions aim to increase the integrity and fairness of the United States’ (U.S) voting system, yet they accomplish the exact opposite.[2] Most proposed legislations disproportionally target accessibility in areas where the right to vote has been historically impaired; in other words, black and brown communities.[3] Added obstacles constraint voters of color, which coincidently, is a demographic that is more likely to vote Democrat.[4] In Florida, the legislature “vowed to increase transparency and strengthen the security of [their] elections”[5] by enacting Senate Bill 90 (“SB 90”). 

A prime example of legislative overreach, SB 90 creates a variety of voter restrictions that have a disparate impact on black voters. 

First, SB 90 limits the number of drop boxes where voters can deposit absentee ballots and requires election personnel to be present, reducing the window of deposit to early voting hours.[6] This creates a conflict with much of the working population who may be unable to leave work to drop off their ballot. Additionally, there is a limit to the number of ballots able to be dropped off if they belong to persons outside of immediate family members. If a person:

distributes, orders, requests, collects, delivers or otherwise physically possesses more than two vote-by mail ballots per election in addition to his or her own ballot or a ballot belonging to an immediate family member . . . [that person] commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.[7]

Thus, assisting fellow neighbors in dropping off their ballot if they are unable to due to work or prior commitments is criminalized. This largely affects populations with limited flexibility, specifically low-income voters. 

Second, in an attempt to police third-party voter registration organizations (“3PVRO”), SB 90 requires those organizations to advice future voters that the organization may not turn in their voter registration form in time.[8] This may demotivate a prospective voter. Moreover, 3PVROs must advice interested voters to register on their own online or at the Supervisor of Elections Office, again discouraging persons to register at the present time.[9] Not to mention, 3PVROs have only fourteen days to turn in completed forms in the county in which the applicant resides in.[10] Before, 3PVROs were able to turn in forms to any Supervisor of Elections in any county. If 3PVROs turn in a form late, they are fined per application.[11]

Third, SB 90 bars anyone or any organization from “engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter,” either inside a polling place or within 150 feet of a drop box or the entrance of a polling place.[12]This provision applies to “line warming” activities such as distributing food and water. Restricting engagement in voting and ballot drop off lines limits organizations like the Florida NAACP that seek to protect and support the black community as they vote.

Despite Governor Ron DeSantis’ attempts to chill Floridians’ right to vote, Chief Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida struck down multiple parts of SB 90 in League of Women Voters of Fla., Inc. v. Lee[13] citing to intentional discrimination against black voters. Judge Walker ordered that: 

(1) limiting the use of drop boxes violates Plaintiff’s rights under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; 

(2) requiring third-party groups to issue a warning when trying to register voters violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; and, 

(3) the “no solicitation zone” around a polling or drop box site and prohibition of “any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter” violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.[14]

Moreover, in citing to Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Judge Walker stated that a decades-long pattern of discriminatory voter legislation, reinforced by SB 90, mandates the court to block future election law changes by states or political subdivisions “unless and until the court finds that such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color,” or against a language minority.[15] As evidence of bias, Judge Walker underscored that (1) Republicans were concerned about fraud and voter confidence in 2020; (2) Republicans sought advantage for their party “without regard to whether it harmed minority voters”; and, (3) Republicans may have wanted to depress the Democratic vote by targeting Black voters who tend to side with that party.[16] Not to mention, in the past twenty years, Blacks persons are more likely to have voted for Democratic candidates while most of the white population has voted Republican and Hispanics have split their votes.[17] Because “SB 90 does not fit into a recent pattern of discrimination against Latino voters,”[18] SB 90 strengthened a historical pattern of discrimination specific to Black voters.

Although voting rights will be at the forefront of challenges to civil liberties until federal protection, like the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, is passed, League of Women Voters of Florida, Inc. set precedent that historical patterns of voter discrimination continue to impact current law, but can and will be blocked.  

[1] Amy Gardner et al., How GOP-Backed Voting Measures Could Create Hurdles

For Tens Of Millions Of Voters, The Washington Post (Mar. 11, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2021/voting-restrictions-republicans-states/

[2] Id.

[3] The Impact of Voter Suppression on Communities of Color, Brennan Center for Justice (Jan. 10, 2022), https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/impact-voter-suppression-communities-color

[4] Gus Wezerek, et al., Do you Live in a Political Bubble?, New York Times (May 3, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/04/30/opinion/politics/bubble-politics.html?

[5] Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Bill to Safeguard the Sanctity of Florida Elections (May 6, 2021), https://www.flgov.com/2021/05/06/governor-ron-desantis-signs-bill-to-safeguard-the-sanctity-of-florida-elections/

[6] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 101.68.2(a) (West 2021).

[7] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 104.0616.2 (West 2021).

[8] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 97.0575.3(a) (West 2021).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 101.051.4(b) (West 2021).

[13] League of Women Voters of Fla. Inc. v. Lee, 4:21cv186-MW/MAF (N.D. Fla. Mar. 31, 2022).

[14] Id. at 282-88.

[15] Voting Rights Act Is Hanging By A Thread; FL ruling may allow Supreme Court to cut it, League of Women Voters (April 13, 2022),https://www.lwv.org/newsroom/news-clips/voting-rights-act-hanging-thread-fl-ruling-may-allow-supreme-court-cut-it

[16] League of Women Voters of Fla. Inc. v. Lee, 4:21cv186-MW/MAF 132 (N.D. Fla. Mar. 31, 2022).

[17] Id. at 129.

[18] Id. at 127.

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