Florida aims to extend law restricting voter registration to citizens only

Carolina Wassmer, the Florida director of a group dedicated to empowering Latino political representation, expressed deep concern on Tuesday about the potential consequences her organization could face should the court grant permission for the nationwide ban on noncitizens’ involvement in voter registration initiatives in Florida. She emphasized the potential devastation it could bring to their efforts.

The new Florida law SB7050 included a restriction that was temporarily halted by a federal court through an emergency injunction in July. However, the state is currently appealing the ruling, and oral arguments are set to take place on Thursday before the 11th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Many Florida residents who have been living in the state for a long time hold lawful permanent resident status. However, those who are not yet citizens can still actively participate in civic activities, such as assisting with voter registration or showing support for a political campaign. These activities not only contribute to their personal journey towards becoming a U.S. citizen but also provide them with valuable insights into the workings of the U.S. government.

According to Wassmer, the injunction has permitted Poder Latinx to retain its experienced staff members who are knowledgeable in the field and have been consistently involved in the work, despite their inability to vote. This is because they recognize the significance of voting.

Legal permanent residents typically have to wait for a duration of five years before they become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

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When the law is enforced, any noncitizen who is found to have been collecting or handling voter registration forms may face a penalty of $50,000 per person.

“If the injunction is lifted,” stated Wassmer, Poder Latinx’s Florida director, “we would be faced with the daunting task of completely restructuring our program. This would undoubtedly have a devastating impact on our organization.”

The Florida Secretary of State’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation, according to Mark Ard, a spokesman for the office. NBC News has also contacted the state’s attorney general’s office for further information.

The voter registration restriction was blocked through an injunction granted in response to a lawsuit filed by the Hispanic Federation, a national Latino advocacy group. This group, along with other organizations, is also challenging other aspects of the Republican-sponsored law. The trial for this case is set to take place in April.

Frankie Miranda, president and CEO of the Hispanic Federation, noted that community-based organizations are encountering greater challenges in registering individuals to vote due to the new provision. He emphasized that communities of color are significantly more likely, four or five times, to register through nonpartisan groups as compared to their white counterparts.

According to Frederick Vélez, spokesman for the Hispanic Federation, voter registration numbers from third-party groups have seen a decline since 2021, coinciding with the implementation of voter restriction laws in Florida.

According to Vélez, Florida has been consistently enacting voter suppression bills year after year. These bills gradually erode our rights and hinder our efforts to encourage and inform voters, as well as register them to vote.

State officials have previously stated that the purpose of the law is to streamline the registration process, identify and address the issue of late registration forms from certain groups, and ensure that only eligible citizens are able to vote.

According to Miranda, his group does not have any concerns about the state’s authority to regulate third-party voter registration organizations.

“The issue lies in the fact that the law enacted has no relevance to the problem it claims to address,” he stated, echoing the observation made by the federal judge who issued the injunction.

Judge Mark Walker issued an injunction, stating that Florida had identified an issue with the timely submission of voter registration applications. However, the state had not provided any evidence to support their proposed solution to this problem.

During the hearing, the judge pointed out that the state had acknowledged a lack of evidence linking non-citizens to voter registration applications that were filed after the deadline.

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