LDF’s Lawsuit Challenging Florida’s S.B. 90

Date Filed: 05/06/2021

Florida NAACP v. Lee

Challenging Voter Suppression in Florida

In May 2021, on the same day Governor DeSantis signed S.B. 90 into law, the Legal Defense Fund, with co-counsel Covington and Burling LLP and Nellie L. King Office, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Florida NAACP, Disability Rights Florida, and Common Cause challenging S.B. 90, arguing that it created barriers and burdens that disproportionately impacted the ability of Black voters, Latino voters, and voters with disabilities to cast their ballot. The lawsuit argues that S.B. 90 violates violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

S.B. 90 represents a direct and swift backlash to Black voters’ historic turnout during the 2020 election season. The Legislature enacted S.B. 90 under the pretense of election integrity despite there being no evidence of fraud or irregularities in the 2020 Florida elections. Turnout in the 2020 general election was over 77%, the highest in 28 years in Florida — despite an ongoing global pandemic. About 44% of votes were cast by mail. Over 500,000 Black voters cast mail ballots in 2020, more than twice as many as in 2016 and 2018. S.B. 90 and its severe restrictions on the vote-by-mail process is a response to unprecedented Black participation in vote-by-mail in the 2020 election. 

In March 2022, Florida voters secured an important victory when a federal judge struck down Florida’s suppressive voting law, S.B. 90, ruling that it violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The court will also retain jurisdiction of this case for 10 years, during which Florida may not enact any law concerning drop boxes or line relief without permission from the court, known as pre-clearance.

Read Judge Walker’s decision here.

The court struck down the below provisions in S.B. 90 challenged by the lawsuit:

NAACP v. Lee challenges multiple provisions of S.B. 90:

S.B. 90's worst provisions:

S.B. 90 imposes unnecessary requirements on voters requesting vote-by-mail ballots. Voters will now be required to provide sensitive identification information over the phone or in the mail, such as the last four digits of their social security number, to request their vote-by-mail ballot. Voters who may not have the requested identification would be blocked from requesting a vote-by-mail ballot.

S.B. 90 restricts who may return completed vote-by-mail ballots, making it a crime for for anyone to possess or return more than two completed vote-by-mail ballots for voters who are not family members. Third-party ballot return is especially important for Black and Latino voters, who are less likely to have access to a vehicle, or be able to secure time off work, as well as voters with disabilities who are more likely to need help returning their vote-by-mail ballots.

S.B. 90 forces voters to renew vote-by-mail requests each general election cycle, ending the “standing” applications that were valid for up to two general election cycles (four years).

S.B. 90 places extreme restrictions on the availability of drop boxes, requiring all drop boxes to be monitored by elections officials at all times, and limiting the use of drop boxes to limited hours and days of early voting. 

S.B. 90 likely makes it a crime to provide relief to voters waiting in long lines, including by providing free water or snacks. Specifically, S.B. 90 dramatically—and vaguely—prohibits any activity within 150 feet of polling places or drop boxes that may “influence” a voter. 

Florida is Not Alone: Threats to Voting Rights in Other States

Florida’s S.B. 90 is just one of the many voter suppression bills driven by baseless allegations of fraud introduced in the wake of the 2020 election. Legislators are following the same model to restrict voting access – using false information to stoke fear in an otherwise secure electoral process. The Brennan Center’s State Voting Bills Tracker counts more than 400 restrictive voting bills introduced in legislatures across the country. 

In Georgia, legislators have enacted burdensome, unjustified, and unnecessary restrictions on voters by imposing narrow identification requirements for requesting and casting an absentee ballot, imposing restrictions on drop boxes, drastically reducing early voting in runoff elections, and making it a crime for volunteers to provide water and snacks to voters waiting in line. LDF filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

In Michigan, legislators have introduced 39 voter suppression bills just months after a record 5.5 million people voted. Among the restrictions included in the bills, absentee ballots could only be returned using a drop box until 5 p.m. the day before the election; the Secretary of State would be prevented from sending out mass absentee ballot applications; and prepaid postage for absentee ballot return envelopes would be prohibited.

Texas passed an extremely restrictive voting bill, S.B. 1. Among the measures that will impact voters of color, S.B. 1 reduces early voting hours and eliminates 24-hour voting, eliminates drive-thru voting centers, prohibits mail-in ballot drop-boxes, and places new restrictions on the distribution of mail-in ballots and mail-in ballot applications. LDF filed a lawsuit challenging the law.