Florida Faces Federal Lawsuit Over Signature Rules for New Voters

A national get-out-the-vote group and the N.A.A.C.P. on Thursday challenged a Florida law that bars the use of digital signatures on voter registration forms, bringing a federal lawsuit against the state similar to ones pending in Texas and Georgia.

The legal action targets what is known as Florida’s “wet signature” requirement, which mandates that anyone registering to vote who is not listed in the state’s driver’s license database sign their application with a pen.

Florida has about 2.3 million people who are of voting age but do not have driver’s licenses, according to Vote.org, part of a group of plaintiffs in the lawsuit that also includes the the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans.

The plaintiffs contend that the rule creates a particular hardship for people of color, older residents and those with lower incomes who might not readily have access to a printer — and that it puts the onus on them to return applications to the state.

Last year, a federal judge in Texas sided with Vote.org in a 2021 lawsuit over that state’s wet signature requirement. The judge ruled that the mandate violated the federal Civil Rights Act, a decision that the state is appealing.

Vote.org filed a similar lawsuit last year against Georgia, which the state unsuccessfully sought to have dismissed.

Oklahoma also prohibits the use of digital signatures on voter application forms. Vote.org did not rule out the possibility of mounting a challenge there as well.

The Florida case is the latest legal battle over voting in that state, where Gov. Ron DeSantis and fellow Republicans who control the Legislature have placed restrictions on ballot drop boxes and created a special law enforcement unit to investigate election fraud, despite instances of fraud being rare. About 20 people were arrested last year on voter fraud charges as part of a highly contentious initiative announced by Mr. DeSantis, who is considering a run for the presidency.

Representatives for Mr. DeSantis and Cord Byrd, Florida’s Republican secretary of state and its top election official, did not immediately comment on Thursday. Mr. Byrd was named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

“Rules like this are death by a thousand paper cuts,” Andrea Hailey, the chief executive of Vote.org, said in an interview on Thursday.

Florida law specifies that voter registration applications must contain an original signature, but the groups said that it wasn’t until 2021 that the state clarified what that meant. The rule prevents Floridians from using Vote.org’s mobile tool, which uses digital signatures, to register to vote on their phones, according to the organization.

“It’s sort of a no-brainer in this moment in time,” Ms. Hailey said of mobile registration. “Most real estate transactions happen with digital signatures. Banking happens with a digital signature. How many times a day do people in the business world use DocuSign to sign all sorts of important agreements and documents?”

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