Left-leaning groups sue GOP-led states over voter registration drive laws, despite fraud concerns

Florida and Missouri are still defending 2022 and 2023 laws in court over voter registration restrictions, but such restrictions face 14th Amendment Equal Protection arguments.

Published: May 30, 2024 11:10pm

Left-leaning organizations are suing Republican-led states over voter registration drive laws, despite the concerns of state legislatures about voter fraud.

As states are focusing more on implementing stricter guidelines on third-party voter registration groups, several liberal-leaning organizations are suing over the laws, arguing that the restrictions violate the U.S. Constitution. However, numerous investigations have been conducted over the recent years because of voter registration fraud.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, 25 states have no restrictions on voter registration drives, while 23 do have restrictions. New Hampshire and Wyoming don’t allow such drives at all. 

Last May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill into law that penalizes third-party voter registration organizations with a $50,000 fine if their staff or volunteers handling or collecting forms are either convicted felons or non-citizens. Fines that groups could face were raised from $1,000 to $250,000, and the window to return registration applications reduced from 14 days to 10 days.

The League of Women Voters of Florida filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Florida federal court last year with other voter advocacy groups over the new law, claiming that the restrictions were vague, overbroad, and violations of First Amendment rights to free speech and association.  

Earlier this month, after a bench trial on April 1, 2024, the federal judge ruled that the restriction on non-citizens handling or collecting voter registration forms violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The League of Women Voters of Florida has moved its voter registration outreach online, rather than in-person, the Associated Press reported.

In Missouri, the League of Women Voters chapter and the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP sued the state over a 2022 law that prevents anyone who isn’t a government employee from receiving payment for assisting with voter registration, requires only Missouri registered voters assist with voter registration, and that anyone who assists with voter registration for more than 10 people must be registered with the secretary of state’s office as voter registration solicitor.

The law is on hold as the litigation continues, with an August trial date set, according to the AP.

In one instance, alleged fraud by a third-party voter registration group resulted in local and state investigations that were referred to the FBI.

In Michigan, a firm called GBI Strategies was under scrutiny as an organization central to alleged voter registration fraud in the 2020 presidential election, which was first investigated by city and state authorities before the FBI took over. 

Last August, the Michigan attorney general's office confirmed that there were state and FBI investigations into thousands of suspected fraudulent voter registrations during the 2020 election, the Bridge Michigan reported. 

The Muskegon Police Department began investigating GBI Strategies after the Muskegon City Clerk’s Office reported suspected voter registrations, according to a police report first dated Oct. 16, 2020, which Just the News obtained via a public records request. 

Danny Wimmer, press secretary for the State Attorney General, told Just the News at the time that among 8,000 to 10,000 voter registration forms that were submitted to the Muskegon clerk before the 2020 general election, some were suspected to be fraudulent. 

"An organization turned in some thousands of voter registrations throughout the fall of 2020, estimated on the high end to be cumulatively 8-10,000, and some within those batches were found to be suspicious or fraudulent," Wimmer said.

There were legitimate registrations within the batches. The city clerk receiving the batches alerted authorities when she began noticing irregularities.  "None of the fraudulent material was incorporated into the state’s qualified voter file, and this had no effect on any ballot requests or associated processes. This attempted fraud was detected because the system worked," Wimmer added

What happened since the FBI took over the case remains mostly a mystery, as the agency refused to release documents requested via the Freedom of Information Act to Just the News.

Jason Snead, executive director of Honest Elections Project Action, told Just the News on Wednesday that a “lot of issues arise” with third-party voter registration groups paying people to run voter registration drives. These problems include “fraud, voter registrations forged or lost, especially through mail with pre-filled voter registration applications,” where a voter’s “data can be wrong,” Snead added.

As a result, “a number of states over the years developed registration schemes to require training” of the organizations “and hold them to account to ensure certain level of service,” he said.

Snead mentioned that some states have gone further recently, including hiring “only citizens for these activities.”

“Whether it’s voter registration drives or a vote trafficking operation, whenever a voter hands either a piece of paper to register to vote or hands their ballot to someone, they are putting their right to vote in another person’s hands,” he noted, so it “makes sense that a state regulates the transaction of collecting an important document to comply with state law” to ensure that a voter is “properly registered, and their rights are being protected.”

Snead also referenced ACORN, an activist group for low-income and minority voters that shut down in 2010 after its alleged involvement in election fraud. Multiple ACORN workers were convicted of voter registration fraud from the 2008 presidential election.

If there is a voter registration quota or workers are paid by the number of registrations they get filled out, then it “creates huge incentives to commit fraud,” Snead said.

“A lot of organizations on the left think it’s their right to talk, persuade, and cast ballots for voters,” he later added. However, the rights are with the voters and their ability “to make their own choice in democracy. Those groups do practices that undermine those rights, including free and fair elections,” Snead said.

Earlier this year, the Honest Elections Project released a report titled “Safeguarding Our Elections: Critical Reforms to Secure Voter Integrity and Rebuild Confidence in Americans Elections,” listing 14 election reforms that states should implement. One of the reforms is to “Protect the integrity of the voter registration process.” 

According to the report, the reform would include official training for voter registration groups and registration with states, sanctions against groups that intentionally or repeatedly violate election law or submit inaccurate or incomplete voter registrations, prohibition on compensation for voter registration activities, and no voter registration less than 30 days before an election. 

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