A federal judge was openly skeptical about Florida’s new election law during a …

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A federal judge was openly skeptical about Florida’s new election law during a hearing today, raising repeated questions about why state legislators needed to put strict regulations and threaten stiff fines for organizations that run voter-registration drives.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle did not indicate how he will rule on an injunction sought by the League of Women Voters, Florida Public Interest Research Group and Rock The Vote. He asked attorneys for those groups whether the new state rules for “third-party registration” drives rise to the level of unconstitutional infringement on their right to participate in the political process.

But Hinkle aimed his most harsh comments and questions at lawyers for the state. He said the law passed last year virtually wipes out mail-in registration by civic groups relying on volunteers, and wondered aloud what interest the state has in making volunteers sign forms indicating they know the registration rules – and having them notify the state when they start and stop collecting registration applications.

Hinkle said, for instance, that he has an employee in the court clerk’s office to whom he takes all office mail. He asked assistant attorney general Blaine Winship whether that employee would have to register as a voter registration “solicitor,” if Hinkle went to the mail room and handed him his own voter registration.
And if that employee failed to get it clearly postmarked, or delivered to Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho’s office, Hinkle wanted to know if the man would be liable for a $50 fine and maybe even felony penalties under the new law.

Similarly, Hinkle asked, if a member of the LWV brought her teen-aged daughter to the State Fairgrounds to hand out voter-registration forms to hundreds of people, would the child have to register as a canvasser and comply with all the laws?

“You don’t think there’s any constitutional right involved in going out and asking people if they want to register to vote? Not even a smidgen?” Hinkle asked.