- A Federal court sided with a handful of Florida officials in a ruling against a challenge to Florida’s voter registration signature law.
- The ruling sets a precedent for upholding stringent voter registration requirements, and noted that in some situations, a physical ink signature carried more weight than a digital copy.
- Plaintiff groups, including the ACLU, now have 14 days to show why all of Florida’s county elections supervisors, named as defendants, shouldn’t also be included in the ruling dismissing the case.
A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a newer Florida voter registration signature law, marking a significant development in ongoing debates over voter access versus election and ballot security. The case called into question whether the state’s strict requirements for voter registration signatures are in compliance with federal laws that require lenience from states to prevent the use of “immaterial errors or omissions” to deny the right to vote. The ruling could have broader implications for voting rights and access, as it sets a precedent that upholds stringent voter registration requirements.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor concluded that progressive voting rights groups, including the ACLU, failed to show that Florida’s requirement for an “original signature” or a “digital signature transmitted by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles” was “immaterial” for voter registration. The plaintiffs had argued that the form of the signature wasn’t important—because whether original or otherwise—did not give election officials any insight into whether the applicant met the statutory qualifications to vote, which include age, citizenship, and residence.
The judge, however, found that argument lacking. He noted that physically signing a voter registration form carries a “solemn weight” that simply submitting an electronic image of one’s signature does not necessarily hold. He also mentioned that the acceptance of electronic signatures in certain circumstances does not make a so-called “wet signature” (i.e. pen and ink) requirement immaterial.
Among the defendants were the Florida Secretary of State and each of Florida’s 67 supervisors of elections. Two political organizations had also intervened as additional defendants. On the other side, the Biden Administration, siding with the ACLU, submitted a “Statement of Interest” urging the court to side with the plaintiffs.
But while the court ultimately rejected those arguments, Windsor noted that his decision to dismiss the lawsuit was not universally aligned with other district court decisions. Another district court in Georgia allowed a similar claim to survive a motion to dismiss in a case involving Georgia’s voter registration law, though that court said the issue was more appropriately considered later in the case.
While the court granted the motion to dismiss the claims of some defendants, not all were party to the motion to dismiss. However, the court noted the ruling could be more broadly applied to all defendants, prompting Windsor to give the progressive groups 14 days to file a response showing why the court should not dismiss claims against all defendants and enter final judgment.