(Photo courtesy of Rock the Vote.)

By Howard Goodman
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

A federal judge has issued a temporary halt to key provisions of new Florida laws meant to limit the activities of voter registration groups.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle today ordered a temporary injunction supporting the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, which have largely abandoned their vote-registration efforts because of the restrictions placed on their activities last year by the Florida legislature.

Hinkle said “the statute and rule impose a harsh and impractical 48-hour deadline for an organization to deliver applications to a voter registration office and effectively prohibit an organization from mailing applications in. And the statute and rule impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional …”

There was no immediate reaction from the groups or the state.

UPDATE, Thursday, 4:25 PM:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — State Rep. Perry Thurston (D-Plantation), the House Democratic Leader-designate, issued the following statement regarding a preliminary injunction issued today by federal Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee in which he orders the state to refrain from enforcing a portion of a controversial Florida election law that was a priority of Republicans during the 2011 session.

Representative Thurston’s statement:

“I am elated by this initial victory for Florida’s voters. I am pleased that voter rights groups are likely to prevail in their challenge to at least a key portion of the Republican-crafted voter suppression law. As federal Judge Robert Hinkle has noted in a preliminary injunction issued today, a provision of the law that makes third-party groups like the League of Women Voters hand in voter registration forms within 48 hours is simply `harsh and impractical’ and the `short deadline, coupled with substantial penalties for noncompliance, make voter-registration drives a risky business.’


“Frankly, I think the bulk of the voter suppression legislation approved by majority party members in the Legislature is an assault on one of our basic rights as U.S. citizens and the law should be replaced with reasonable rules regulating Florida’s elections.


“I remain proud of Representative Mark Pafford for filing in the 2012 legislative session House Bill 1189 to ensure that basic voting rights are protected for Floridians. It is a great disappointment to members of the Florida House Democratic Caucus that Republican legislative leaders refused to advance Representative Pafford’s important legislation.


“Without the changes sought by Florida House Democratic Caucus members, I fear that Florida’s new election rules imposed by the GOP voter-suppression legislation will reduce turnout among young, disabled, minority and low-income voters. If allowed to remain in effect, these changes will shorten the hours for early voting, make it harder for people with address changes to vote, and make third-party voter registration drives more difficult.”