The League of Women Voters of Florida and co-plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that SB90, which reduces access to ballot drop boxes, bans organizations and volunteers from returning absentee ballots for voters, and forbids anyone but election workers from giving food and water to voters waiting in line, violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution.
In 2021, the Florida State Legislature enacted SB90, which imposed numerous restrictions on voting and voter registration efforts. The legislation came in the wake of the 2020 election, which saw 77% of eligible Floridians cast their vote.
The law contains several sweeping changes to mail voting and voter registration in Florida.
For example, prior to the passage of SB90, ballot drop boxes were available, often for 24 hours a day, at early voting sites, or at the offices of each county’s Supervisor of Elections. Under SB90, the availability and accessibility of drop boxes is severely restricted.
SB90 also severely restricts anyone assisting voters with returning absentee ballots. Previously, organizations like the League of Women Voters could return voters’ absentee ballots on the voters’ behalf, as long as they were not paid to do so. Under SB90, anyone who helps return more than two ballots, unless the ballots were those of an immediate family member, could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000 or even imprisoned.
SB90 also eliminates line warming by organizations. Line warming is a longstanding practice in which nonpartisan groups provide food and water to voters waiting in line to vote. Floridians have historically experienced long waits to vote, and line warming provides a way to help voters endure the wait and stay in line to vote. SB90 forbids anyone from engaging in activity which could influence a voter within 150 feet of a polling location. Election office employees are permitted to give items to voters.
The law also makes several changes to voter registration efforts. Current Florida law requires that third-party voter registration organizations (3PVROs) that help register voters, like the League, must register with county elections offices and turn in voter registration applications by the time the voter registration books close, or ten days after the application is completed. Failure to do so could lead to fines and referral to the Florida Attorney General’s office. SB90 imposes additional mandates, which requires 3PVROs to inform voters they may not return the voter registration application on time and educate them on how to register to vote online or with the county elections office instead.
The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWV Florida), together with Black Voters Matter Fund, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and several individual plaintiffs filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, alleging SB90 and the changes it made violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution.
After a full trial, the court enjoined the law and placed Florida under preclearance for ten years, a remedy for plaintiffs created by Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Under preclearance, a political jurisdiction found to have intentionally abridged or denied voting rights based upon race or color by a federal court may not enact new voting regulations without the court’s approval. Preclearance may continue for as long as the court deems appropriate.
The defendants immediately appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued a stay of the district court’s injunction and order pending appeal.
LWV Florida is represented by King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth, P.A. and the Elias Law Group, LLP.
LWVFL and partners file complaint
LWV of Florida files a complaint against Florida’s Secretary of State and other Florida election officials asking the court to stop Florida officials from enforcing the provisions.
The court explores the ways in which SB90 burdens elderly and disabled voters and voters of color. Cecile Scoon, President of LWV of Florida, testifies about how SB90 impacts voters and organizations
District Court rules against the key provisions of SB90
The District Court rules the key provisions of SB90 were unconstitutional and issues an injunction barring enforcement. Florida is also placed under preclearance for the next 10 years and must obtain approval from the court before passing any new laws related to drop boxes, line-warming, and voter registration organization activities.
Eleventh Circuit stays district court order
The Eleventh Circuit issues a stay of the District Court’s permanent injunction, allow provisions of SB90 to remain in effect.
Eleventh Circuit hears oral arguments
A three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, consisting of Judges Robert Luck, Elizabeth Branch and Charles Wilson hears oral arguments on whether the District Court's decision should be reversed.
Eleventh circuit issues ruling
In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit largely reverses the district court's ruling, including imposition of section 3 preclearance on Florida and the finding that SB90 violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Black voters. The panel strikes one phrase of the solicitation ban as unconstitutionally vague and remands the claims against the restrictions on drop boxes and voter registration form delivery to the district court to determine whether they unduly burden the right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.