Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Federal judge rules Florida can’t ban noncitizens from registering voters

A federal judge handed Latino and civil rights groups a victory when he struck down a provision in a Florida state law that would have barred noncitizens from registering voters in time for the 2024 election.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker determined Friday that a provision in Florida’s SB 7050 assessing a $50,000 fine for each noncitizen found to be “collecting or handling voter registration applications” violates constitutional equal protection rights. The ban covered people with legal permanent residency or green cards.

An estimated 1.3 million lawful permanent residents live in Florida, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Many of them often engage in civic activities such as help with voter registration or supporting campaigns as part of their journeys to become U.S. citizens or to learn about U.S. government.

An emergency injunction issued last year had blocked Florida from enforcing the state law, allowing organizations to retain field staff members who were noncitizens.

The injunction was an important win at the time considering that Latinos and communities of color in general are more likely to register to vote through nonpartisan groups than their white counterparts.

Voter registrations through third-party groups have been dropping since 2021 as Florida has been enacting voter restriction laws, according to the Hispanic Federation, a national Latino advocacy organization.

Walker’s decision Friday stems from a federal lawsuit filed last year by the Hispanic Federation and Poder Latinx, a progressive group aimed at registering and turning out Latino voters, along with three noncitizen plaintiffs.

They were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and four other legal organizations.

Frankie Miranda, the president and CEO of the Hispanic Federation, and Yadira Sánchez, the executive director of Poder Latinx, celebrated the judge’s decision in a joint statement Friday.

“This victory continues to allow legal residents and others who have called Florida home for decades to continue helping their U.S. citizen family, neighbors, and friends register to vote,” Miranda said.

Sánchez said, “We will continue to play a pivotal role in our communities, especially in mobilizing individuals to actively participate in our civic duties, thereby contributing significantly to our collective progress.”

In general, lawful permanent residents must wait five years before they are eligible to become U.S. citizens.

Following the judge’s decision Friday, the Florida secretary of state’s office will not be able to enforce provisions in state law barring noncitizens from participating in voter registration efforts.

Mark Ard, a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

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