Voting Rights Groups Appeal Dismissal of Federal Lawsuit Over Florida’s Ink Signature Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit yesterday challenging Florida’s so-called “wet ink” signature rule for voter registration. Today, voting rights groups appealed the decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where litigation will continue.

The rule at issue in the lawsuit requires some individuals to submit their voter registration applications with an “original” pen on paper signature. 

Under state law, individuals who possess a Florida driver’s license or ID card may register to vote using a digital signature if they register through the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. However, those who lack a Florida driver’s license or ID card cannot register with a digital signature and must instead do so with an “original” signature.

The lawsuit — which was filed by, the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and Disability Rights Florida — alleged that Florida’s wet ink signature rule has resulted in the rejection of voter registration applications received via email or fax, as well as those submitted with an electronic signature. The organizations brought the case against Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd (R) and 67 county supervisors of elections.

Back in May, the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Pasco County moved to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the ink signature rule. 

According to the plaintiff groups, the wet ink signature requirement violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against disenfranchisement on the basis of trivial errors that are immaterial to a voter’s eligibility. 

The “method of signing a voter registration application bears no relation” to a voter’s qualifications “and does not serve any purpose for which a digital or electronic signature would not suffice, as evidenced by the fact that Defendants accept electronic and digital signatures from some, but not all, Floridians,” the plaintiffs argued in their March 2023 complaint. 

In an order issued last week, Judge Allen Winsor — a Trump appointee who sits on U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida — granted the Florida secretary of state and the Republican intervenors’ motions to dismiss the lawsuits. In doing so, Windsor rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments under the Materiality Provision, concluding that they have not “plausibly show[n] that the wet-signature requirement is immaterial” to a voter’s eligibility. 

Windsor also found “persuasive” the defendants’ assertion that only the U.S. Department of Justice — and not private plaintiffs — can bring legal claims under the Materiality Provision. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that there is binding legal precedent holding that private parties may sue under the civil rights provision. 

In a separate order issued yesterday, Winsor dismissed the claims against the remaining defendants — who were county supervisors of elections — for the “same reasons” stated in last week’s order.

In a similar lawsuit challenging Texas’ ink signature rule, state Republicans are also arguing that there is no private right of action under the Materiality Provision. After a federal district court struck down the Texas rule for violating the provision, Republican officials appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a decision is pending.  

Read the order of dismissal here.

Learn more about the case here.