As citizens of Florida faced a public health emergency created by the COVID-19 virus, which threated the health and well-being of millions of Americans, shuttered schools and businesses, and led public health officials to recommend that Americans remain at home and avoid public gatherings, Florida’s presidential preference primary (“PPP”) continued in a vacuum, as if the well-being of the state’s electorate was not at stake as well. On March 16, 2020 Dēmos, Advancement Project, LatinoJustice, and PRLDEF, sued on behalf of Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, and individual Florida voters to force Florida to provide voters with safe alternatives to casting a ballot at their polling place on Election Day.
On March 17, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida denied plaintiffs the necessary immediate relief, allowing the election underway to continue, but suggesting that future elections could be remedied by our lawsuit.
At the close of polls on Election Day, having heard harrowing accounts of closed polling sites, poll worker absence, and real fear for the health and safety of our plaintiffs’ families, we renewed our request for the District Court to order relief, allowing plaintiffs unable to cast a ballot in person on Election Day in Florida to not be stripped of their voice in our democracy at this critical moment.
On March 18, the Court denied our renewed request for relief and denied in part our request for a preliminary injunction, insomuch as it related to the March 17, 2020 election.
Dream Defenders Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint on April 20, 2020 which addressed the likely harm to Florida voters in upcoming federal elections affected by COVID-19. The Complaint addressed how, without change, Florida’s vote-by-mail and third-party voter registration laws in place during the pandemic, in addition to the state’s online voter registration system’s operation, interact to deny and abridge Dream Defenders Plaintiffs votes on account of race, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As a result of a relevant ruling in the Eleventh Circuit in the days following Dream Defenders Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint, adding the 134 county Supervisors of Elections and County Canvassing Boards as defendants, and addressing, among other things, how these defendants’ signature match and “cure” procedures for vote-by-mail ballots deny eligible voters the opportunity to cast a ballot that will count, without giving the voter the opportunity to fix any alleged deficiency. County defendants’ vote-by-mail and cure procedures also disproportionately impact Black and brown voters. Dream Defenders Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint was filed on May 8, 2020.
The Florida Secretary of State and Governor moved to consolidate Dream Defenders Plaintiffs case with another, similar, case brought by several Democratic organizations in the Northern District of Florida, Nielsen v. DeSantis, et al., on May 19, 2020. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to consolidate the cases on May 22, 2020 after a telephonic conference.
On May 27, 2020, Dream Defenders Plaintiffs filed a renewed motion and memorandum of law in support of a preliminary injunction ensuring necessary relief for Floridians voting in future federal elections affected by COVID-19.
On May 28, 2020, over opposition from the Nielsen and Dream Defenders Plaintiffs, various Republican Organizations were granted the right to intervene in the Nielsen case.
The case is currently set for trial to begin in the two-week period that begins on July 20, 2020.