Federal Judge Upholds Provision of Florida’s 2023 Anti-Voting Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal judge yesterday upheld a provision of Florida’s 2023 omnibus anti-voting law that prohibits people with certain felony convictions from “collecting or handling” voter registration applications on behalf of third-party voter registration organizations (3PVROs) — groups that engage in community-based voter registration. 

In a May 2023 lawsuit filed shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the voter suppression legislation — known as Senate Bill 7050 — into law, the League of Women Voters of Florida alleged that the new statute’s host of restrictions on 3PVROs are unconstitutional. 

Among other claims, the League of Women Voters asserted that the law’s provision banning people with specified felony convictions from handling voter registration applications — and the $50,000 fine imposed on 3PVROs for violating that provision — contravenes the First and 14th Amendments. The so-called “Felon Ban” specifically forbids individuals from engaging in voter registration efforts if they have been convicted of felony violations under Florida’s Election Code or other disqualifying felonies.

In yesterday’s order, Obama-appointed Judge Mark E. Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida ruled in favor of Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd (R), holding that the League of Women Voters of Florida lacked standing to challenge the “Felon Ban.” 

According to the order, the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient evidence to show they have been injured by the law: “All Plaintiffs had to do was identify a single member with a disqualifying felony conviction who had collected or handled voter registration applications in the past and planned to do it now but for the challenged provision.”

Walker concluded that “[h]aving failed to do so, [the Florida secretary of state] is entitled to summary judgment with respect to these claims,” thereby leaving S.B. 7050’s “Felon Ban” in effect. The League of Women Voters’ claims against other provisions of the law remain ongoing.

Meanwhile, two other lawsuits challenging S.B. 7050 have resulted in certain provisions being blocked. 

Although Walker’s order leaves S.B. 7050’s “Felon Ban” in place, other provisions of the law remain temporarily blocked as a result of a July 2023 preliminary injunction secured in a separate duo of lawsuits brought by Florida State Conference of Branches and Youth Units of the NAACP and Hispanic Federation. 

As a result of the July 2023 injunction, two provisions of S.B. 7050 — which Walker found to likely run afoul of the U.S. Constitution — are not currently in effect. One provision bars noncitizens from conducting voter registration activities on behalf of 3PVROs and the other criminalizes routine retention of voter information for any purpose except voter registration — effectively making it a felony to maintain voter information for other activities such as get-out-the-vote efforts.

State officials appealed the July 2023 victory to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral argument on Jan. 25, 2024. As the parties await a decision from the 11th Circuit, litigation in all three federal cases challenging S.B. 7050 remains ongoing at the district court level. 

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.