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FLORIDA PHOENIX: Nation is watching: FL League of Women Voters president blasts SB 90 on Day 1 in federal trial

League of Women Voters of Florida President Cecile Scoon testified Monday in federal court that Florida’s new election laws — adopted in 2021 Senate Bill 90 — makes voter-registration drives, voting by mail, and rendering basic assistance to voters in line needlessly difficult, resulting in voting suppression.

Scoon is the first witness to testify in the League’s lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis, Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Attorney General Ashley Moody and two national Republican Party committees.

The League and a dozen other civil-rights and voting-rights organizations are asking a federal court to strike down all or part of the new laws as unconstitutional infringements on voting rights, especially for people of color and people with disabilities.

“These additional changes were not needed,” Scoon testified. “All these kinds of limitations are being placed on people for imaginary problems that have never been demonstrated … fears that have not happened.”

The trial, pitting civil rights organizations against state and national Republicans, is being conducted by Zoom and monitored telephonically by observers who are not parties in the case.

Scoon testified that SB 90 mandates needlessly difficult measures that will do nothing to improve election integrity.

“I was SO proud of Florida” Scoon said of the 2020 elections (which in Florida widely favored Republican candidates). She said there were no meaningful problems in voter registration, voting early, voting by mail, use of mail-ballot drop boxes, or counting and reporting the votes. She testified that Gov. DeSantis and Secretary Lee publicly praised the administration of the 2020 elections and that lawmakers who sponsored SB 90 in the 2021 legislation also did not cite voter fraud, election fraud, or counting errors as causes for changing the state’s election laws.

(A notable exception regarding election integrity involves a state Senate race in which the FBI later arrested a Republican operative for his alleged role in setting up a three-way “spoiler race” where a Republican newcomer barely defeated the Democratic incumbent.)

Scoon also testified that SB 90’s mandate to remove most ballot drop boxes will needlessly depress voting at a time when the U.S. Postal Service has been significantly impaired by 2020 slowdowns in postal delivery.

She said the League’s volunteers would no longer provide basic voter assistance such as providing water to voters in line because SB 90 is broad enough to categorize that as a crime.

Additional witnesses are scheduled to testify Monday after Scoon can be cross-examined by attorneys for the defendants, and the trial is expected to continue for at least two weeks.

Proponents of Senate Bill 90 say the new measures establish guardrails to prevent election fraud, although virtually no voter fraud occurred in Florida in 2020. It adds new rules that include requiring third-party registration groups such as the League of Women Voters to declare a “warning” to prospective registrants that the group may fail to submit the voter’s registration.

Opponents including Scoon say the warning could needlessly discourage prospective voters from registering during voter-registration drives and implies that such voter-registration drives are not to be trusted.

“It’s very harmful for us to have to give to those kinds of warnings,” Scoon testified. “It’s kind of like invalidating all the work that we’ve done … giving a black eye to the League.”

Scoon said the League’s trained volunteers, who must be retrained to comply with SB 90, feel intimidated by the new mandates.

Mohammed Jazil, representing the state and national GOP, pressed Scoon on cross examination about the degree to which the League is really burdened by the new law.

Scoon replied that members of the public have told her they feel intimidated interacting with election workers and might be dissuaded from using a drop box if someone is physically monitoring it. She might be put off herself, she added.

“It’s extremely unlikely” she would use a drop box under those circumstances, Scoon said. “The more I think about it, the more definitive I become.”

As for requiring voters to request mail-in ballots for each two-year election cycle, that would “double the chance” that an older voter might forget to request a mail-in ballot,” Scoon said. “That’s math.”

Similarly, the law’s ban on “line warming” — meaning supplying food or water to people waiting in time to vote — has burdened the League with the need to train even experienced volunteers in how to observe the new prohibition, Scoon said. Some withdraw from participating rather than risk the new law’s criminal penalties, she added.

Note: This story has been updated to include material from Scoon’s cross-examination. Deputy Editor Michael Moline contributed.