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Florida Secretary Of State Laurel Lee Seeks To Scuttle Elections Lawsuit

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee has asked a federal judge to toss out a challenge to a controversial new elections law that includes additional restrictions on voting by mail.

Lee last week filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed in May by the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida, and Common Cause --- one of three challenges to the elections law, which has drawn national attention.

The motion describes the lawsuit as a "shotgun" complaint that does not properly spell out allegations and contends that Lee should not be a defendant. Unlike the other two challenges, Lee is the only defendant in the lawsuit filed by the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida, and Common Cause.

"Because enmity and hyperbole are no substitute for well-pled facts, this court should dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint," said the motion, filed Friday in federal court in Tallahassee.

The lawsuit was filed May 6, shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the elections law during an appearance on Fox News. The measure was one of the most controversial issues of the 2021 legislative session, with Republicans saying it was needed to ensure secure election security and Democrats contending it was aimed at voter suppression.

Lawyers for the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida, and Common Cause contend that the law violates the U.S. Constitution, the federal Voting Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"The 2021 voter suppression law is just the latest in a long line of voter suppression laws targeting Florida's Black voters, Latino voters, and voters with disabilities." the lawsuit said. "For far too long, Florida's lawmakers and elected officials have created a vast array of hurdles that have made it more difficult for these and other voters to make their voices heard."

But while the other two challenges also named county supervisors of elections as defendants, the case filed by the NAACP, Disability Rights Florida, and Common Cause only addressed Lee, who is the state's chief elections officer.

In the motion to dismiss, Lee's attorneys cited a ruling last year by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that concluded the secretary of state was not a proper defendant in a case involving the order in which candidates are placed on Florida ballots.

Lee's attorneys said the 2020 ruling requires the plaintiffs in the challenge to the new elections law to "link the secretary to the injuries they allege and the relief they seek. This the plaintiffs do not do in their complaint."

The motion said the allegations in the lawsuit involve responsibilities of county supervisors of elections, not Lee. Those allegations deal with issues such as drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots and reviews of voter identification in requests for vote-by-mail ballots.

The law addresses numerous issues such as drop boxes, which became a flashpoint last year, as elections officials wrangled with DeSantis' administration over the location of the boxes and whether they needed to be manned at all times.

The measure will allow supervisors to use drop boxes at early voting sites and "permanent" branch offices, so long as the boxes are staffed by their employees. Among other changes, the bill will require voters to request mail-in ballots more frequently than in the past.

Republican lawmakers in many states have pushed for new election restrictions this year as former President Donald Trump has continued to falsely blame "rigged" and fraudulent elections for Democrat Joe Biden's victory in November. Courts rejected numerous lawsuits in which Trump and his supporters challenged the handling of the November elections.

Trump defeated Biden handily in Florida, but Democrats outpaced Republicans in voting by mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)

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