Obama Has a Chance: Federal Judge Blocks Florida Voting Restrictions

A federal judge in Tallahassee this afternoon blocked some of the most severe restrictions of a voter registration law passed last year by the Republican Florida legislature.

The law has been severely criticized by opponents as an attempt to limit minority participation this fall's election. It was pushed by Republicans who mostly support Mitt Romney.

"A clear victory for Florida voters," says Lee Rowland, one of the attorneys who argued the case for the plaintiffs, who included the League of Women Voters. "The Florida legislature has tried repeatedly to stifle access to voter registration opportunities....the court has stood up for voters and for civic groups across the state helping Floridians register to vote."

The restrictions had caused groups like the Boy Scouts of America and the League to stop registering voters.

In his 27-page order granting a preliminary injunction, Judge Robert Hinkle found that rules like requiring submission of voters' names 48 hours after they are registered and submission of the names of those collecting registrations were an unnecessary burden. "When a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever," Hinkle wrote

It's unclear whether groups including the League, Rock the Vote, and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, who filed the lawsuit, will start up again registering voters -- though that is likely.

Also, a federal case filed by the administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott is pending in a Washington DC federal court. If the courts sides with the Republican leader, that decision could "gut the [1965] Voting Rights Act," says Howard Simon, executive director of Florida's ACLU.

The Obama campaign released the following statement about the decision: "Voting should be easy and accessible, and we're working to get as many Americans involved as possible, which is why we welcome the preliminary injunction today blocking enforcement ... We will continue putting in place accountability measures to track our efforts to ensure our volunteer-driven voter registration efforts comply with the law while also encouraging Floridians to participate in the election process."

Gov. Scott, attempting a positive spin, issued the following statement: "I am pleased that central parts of the voter registration law have been upheld by a federal judge. This is a vast improvement over the previous system that will help protect the integrity, accountability, and enforcement of the voter registration process. Our democracy relies on ensuring only valid, legal votes are counted, and that starts with having a voter registration process that safeguards the ballots of Florida citizens."

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