Republicans are seeking to join a high-stakes voting rights battle in Florida, claiming that Democrat-aligned groups are using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to strike down voting laws. The Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Florida and the National Republican Congressional Committee on Thursday asked a federal judge for permission to intervene in a lawsuit brought against Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and state and local election officials. “Democrats never let a crisis go to waste, and they are using a pandemic to completely destroy the integrity of our elections,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a written statement. The case, she said, “exposes Florida to potential fraud.” A group of Florida voters, Democratic super PAC Priorities USA and other Democratic-leaning organizations filed the lawsuit in U.S. district court in Tallahassee in early May. The case seeks to throw out state ballot-return deadlines and laws limiting who is allowed to collect vote-by-mail ballots and return them to local election offices.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters called the lawsuit “an attempt to steal as many votes as possible in President Trump’s home state.”
Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil fired back.
“Even in the midst of a global health crisis, the GOP has resorted to using voter suppression as a tactic to win elections,” Cecil said in a statement. “It is disgraceful that they have coordinated national efforts that force Americans to choose between their health and casting their ballots.”
In their complaint, the plaintiffs behind the lawsuit claim that voters and elections officials will face logistical challenges in November, including an unprecedented spike in demand for mail-in ballots and a shortage of poll workers and elections staff as the nation continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
The complaint contends that the coronavirus makes access to absentee and mail-in voting increasingly important, and that state law currently imposes significant barriers that infringe on Florida voters’ rights.
The filing challenges the constitutionality of the state’s Election Day receipt deadline for mailed ballots, arguing that ballots postmarked by Election Day should be counted. The plaintiffs also claim that the postage required for mailed ballots amounts to a poll tax and that a voter-assistance ban imposes unreasonable restrictions on speech and the right of association.
Priorities USA backed a similar suit in Pennsylvania, another battleground state, last month.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle is scheduled to hold a hearing on the case on Friday morning in which he is expected to consider consolidating the Priorities USA lawsuit with a similar complaint brought by other groups, including Dream Defenders, a nonprofit organization established after the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Plaintiffs in the Dream Defenders lawsuit include elderly voters who said they didn’t vote during the March 17 presidential primary because they feared being exposed to the coronavirus.
Republicans in Florida have long embraced vote-by-mail and were responsible for making it easier to cast absentee ballots in the wake of the chaotic 2000 presidential recount.
But in recent weeks President Donald Trump, who voted by mail in the presidential primary, has roundly criticized the practice and has suggested it should be sharply curtailed.
In their legal memo seeking to join the lawsuit, the RNC and the other Republican groups claim they “regularly encourage voters to vote-by-mail” but have a reason in ensuring that the practice is conducted in “a safe and secure manner.”
The case is just one of several ongoing legal battles over voting and voting rights under way in Florida, which Trump won by a narrow margin in 2016. Trump has made winning Florida a key part of his presidential reelection strategy.
Full Article: GOP enters legal fray over Florida vote-by-mail.