As both parties turn to the general election, and the potentially pivotal role of minority voters, battles over voter identification and other new state election laws are intensifying. Voting rights groups, who say the new laws discriminate against minority voters, won a key victory Thursday with a federal judge’s decision to strike down portions of a Florida law that tightened rules for third-party groups that register voters. In his opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle said:
“Together speech and voting are constitutional rights of special significance; they are the rights most protective of all others, joined in this respect by the ability to vindicate one’s rights in a federal court. …[W]hen a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever … And allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives — thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote — promotes democracy.”
The ruling comes as Florida faces similar challenges to its effort to purge its voter rolls of potential noncitizens. The Justice Department has filed suit to stop the practice, arguing that it violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities, and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which governs voter purges.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that Florida officials are considering fighting the lawsuit:
“We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot,” said Chris Cate, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
Florida also has been criticized for reversing rules that had made it easier for former felons to vote. Since 2008, controversial changes to state election laws havespread across the nation to restrict voter registration drives, scale back early voting periods or stop people from registering to vote on Election Day. Before the changes, all three practices were credited with helping to increase the young and minority voter turnout in 2008 that elected President Obama.