He wrote, “The short deadline [the old deadline was 10 days] coupled with substantial penalties for noncompliance, make voter-registration drives a risky business.”
The judge wrote, “If the goal is to discourage voter-registration drives and thus also to make it harder for new voters to register, the 48-hour deadline may succeed.”
The League of Women Voters, which had been registering Florida voters for 72 years, reported that it had ceased registration operations rather than risk the fines. The League and other civic groups filed suit in December, asking the court to intervene. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, after hearing the state’s defense of the new restrictions at the March hearing, Hinkle asked Detzner’s lawyer, “You don’t think there’s any constitutional right involved in going out and asking people to register to vote? Not even a smidgen?”
During the hearing, the judge heard a telling statement from one of the sponsors of the new voting legislation. “I want the people in the state of Florida to want to vote as badly as that person in Africa who is willing to walk 200 miles for that opportunity he’s never had before in his life. This should not be easy,” Sen. Michael Bennett, a Republican from Bradenton, had said during the 2011 legislative session.
Judge Hinkle responded that Florida “doesn’t have an interest in making it hard to vote. That’s not a permissible goal.”
Hinkle also took issue with new “burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose.”
Actually, the added paperwork seem to have an obvious purpose: to discourage and intimidate voter registration volunteers. Hinkle noted that Detzner’s office has devised forms warning the volunteers that they risked “a felony and could be imprisoned for five years for sending in a voter registration application that includes false information, even if the registration agent does not know or have reason to believe the information is false.” (The judge added, “This is not the law; the form is just wrong.”)
He also puzzled over the crafting of the statute, key portions of which he called “virtually unintelligible.” Republican Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, who voted against the bill in 2011, calling it “another poorly vetted piece of legislative slop.” She wrote in a February op-ed about the legislative process that led to its passage: “Many concerned citizens, Republicans and Democrats alike, contacted my office about what they perceived to be an attempt at voter suppression. What was going on? What were the true motivations?”
The senator wrote, “The voters may not have had much say in the legislative process, but they will have their day in court.” She predicted that a federal judge would toss key provisions of the law. Judge Hinkle did just that Thursday.”
With a voter purge based on outdated data, with the U.S. Justice Department intervening to stop Florida from flouting voter-rights laws, with a federal judge knocking down segments of a law that seemed designed, as he put it, “to discourage voter-registration drives and thus also to make it harder for new voters to register,” there’s plenty of material to bolster talk of a voter-suppression conspiracy in Florida.
But somebody, feeling charitable, might think that the beer lobbyist charged with safeguarding our elections was only inept. Maybe all he needed was a little civic lesson (along with a federal court injunction) from Judge Hinkle.