Laying the groundwork for an upcoming trial in a case seeking to expand the state's vote-by-mail procedures, a federal judge on Friday tossed out an effort by left-leaning groups to require county elections officials to pay for postage for mail-in ballots.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle held a status conference in preparation for a July 20 trial in the case, which is a consolidation of legal challenges focused largely on the state’s mail-in ballot processes. The trial is expected to last at least 10 days and will come a little more than three months before the November elections.
In one of the lawsuits, the organization Priorities USA and other plaintiffs have urged the judge to extend a deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned and require free postage for the ballots. They’re also challenging a provision in Florida law restricting paid workers from collecting mail-in ballots.
Earlier this week, Hinkle rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that requiring voters to pick up the tab for stamps amounts to an unconstitutional “poll tax,” saying the cost for postage was no different than the price voters have to pay to take public transportation to cast their ballots in person.
Hinkle said during Friday’s telephone hearing that he is dismissing the part of the case dealing with postage, along with several other claims involving how elections officials are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plaintiffs asserted that the state hadn’t properly prepared for voting in an emergency, Hinkle noted.
“It’s speculative,” he said, adding that the circumstances around the upcoming primary and general elections remain unknown.
It’s “too speculative to start litigating now,” the judge said.
Lawyers in the case also quibbled over the production of documents prior to the onset of the trial.Attorneys for Secretary of State Laurel Lee said they had already provided more than 4,500 pages of documents in response to the plaintiffs’ requests.
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