Legal Analysis

Federal Judge Hands Rick Scott Huge Loss While Masterfully Trolling Marco Rubio’s Football Analogy

A federal judge dealt a devastating blow to Florida Governor Rick Scott on Thursday by ruling that the state’s law requiring signatures on ballots to match signatures on file has been applied in violation of the U.S. Constitution. This order also contains some epic trolling directed at Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Walker sided with the campaign of incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in a 34-page order granting a preliminary injunction against Florida’s secretary of state. Walker’s order will force Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to direct local elections supervisors to allow voters disenfranchised by the signature mismatch law to “cure” their uncounted provisional or vote-by-mail ballots by 5 p.m. this Saturday.

Judge Walker offered a blunt appraisal of the current signature mismatch law passed by the Sunshine State’s Republican trifecta in 2016:

The precise issue in this case is whether Florida’s law that allows county election officials to reject vote-by-mail and provisional ballots for mismatched signatures—with no standards, an illusory process to cure, and no process to challenge the rejection—passes constitutional muster. The answer is simple. It does not.

The court then meticulously explains the process by which the now-ruled unconstitutional law has been applied.

“For a vote-by-mail ballot to be counted, the envelope of that ballot must include the voter’s signature,” Judge Walker notes. “Once the vote-by-mail ballots are received, county canvassing boards review those ballots to verify the signature requirement has been met. In addition to confirming the envelope is signed, the county canvassing boards confirm the signature on the envelope matches the signature on file for a voter.”

Judge Walker then notes the reason this scheme doesn’t pass constitutional muster:

“These county canvassing boards are staffed by laypersons that are not required to undergo formal handwriting-analysis education or training,” Walker writes. “Moreover, Florida has no formalized statewide procedure for canvassing boards to evaluate whether the signature on a vote-by-mail ballot matches the signature on file with the elections office. If the canvassing board believes the signature on the vote-by-mail ballot does not correspond to the signature on file with the supervisor of elections office, the ballot is deemed ‘illegal’ and is therefore rejected.”

Judge Walker also found that the timelines under Florida law are also unconstitutionally prohibitive:

[I]f the canvassing board determines a vote-by-mail ballot contains a signature that does not match the voter’s signature in the registration books or precinct register, the supervisor “shall . . . immediately notify” the voter. After notification, the voter may complete and submit an affidavit to cure the vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. on the day before the election. But notably, a vote-by-mail ballot may be received “not later than 7 p.m. on the day of the election.” … Thus, a vote-by-mail voter could mail their ballot in weeks early, but the canvassing board could also wait, canvass the ballot the day after the election, determine there is a mismatched signature, and toss the vote. The voter therefore gets no chance to cure, since curing must be done by 5 p.m. the day before the election.

“The right of voters to cast their ballots and have them counted is guaranteed in the Constitution,” Walker continued. “Once again, Florida’s statutory scheme threatens that right by rejecting votes based on signature mismatch without an opportunity to challenge that determination.”

In other words, Florida officials have been violating Floridians’ sacred right to vote–a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and upheld by federal courts for decades.

Beyond the win for Nelson and loss for Scott, Judge Walker also used a choice analogy to troll Florida’s junior Senator Marco Rubio.

Earlier this week, pretty much everyone in America made fun of Rubio for his clumsy attempt to invoke football in a tweet meant to cast doubts on the recount affecting the Senate race between Scott and Nelson.

“Imagine if NFL team was trailing 24-22 but in final seconds hits a 3 pt kick to win,” Rubio wrote. “Then AFTER game lawyers for losing team get a judge to order rules changed so that last second field goals are only 1 point. Well that’s how democrat lawyers plan to steal #Florida election.”

How exactly did Judge Walker take Rubio to the woodshed with this decision?

He started it off with a lengthy–and accurate–football analogy:

Consider the game of football. Football fans may quibble about the substance of the rules, but no one quibbles that rules are necessary to play the game. And no one quibbles that football referees make certain calls, under the rules, that deserve review. Indeed, not every call is going to be clear—the ultimate decision may hinge on highly subjective factors. Hence, a call will be overturned only when there is “clear and obvious visual evidence available that warrants the change.”

By heavily citing the NFL’s own recent rules patch, Judge Walker showcased his actual familiarity with the game.

“Among other things, the 2018 NFL Rules allow video review for plays involving possession, boundary lines, the line of scrimmage, and the goal line,” Walker trolled. “The NFL likewise provides review for disqualification of players. Coaches may challenge calls themselves by throwing a red flag, or, in certain circumstances, the referees may initiate review on their own. All that process. Just for a game. In this case, the Plaintiffs have thrown a red flag. But this is not football. Rather, this is a case about the precious and fundamental right to vote—the right preservative of all other rights…”

Judge Walker’s ruling affects at least 4,000 ballots previously rejected by Florida elections supervisors. Nelson’s lawyer, Marc Elias, believes that number will rise significantly as other counties add their rejected ballots to the pool of provisional and vote-by-mail ballots originally rejected.

Such a move could certainly throw the race–or, football game–Nelson’s way.

[image via Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

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