Federal judge blasts Florida secretary of state in voting case

A Republican primary voter heads to the polls early at polling precinct No. 133 at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

(CNN)A federal judge blasted Florida officials Sunday night, calling a provision of state law that rejects some vote-by-mail ballots "obscene" disenfranchisement and directing officials to take steps to fix how some of those ballots are processed in the battleground state.

In Florida, if a voter's signature on a vote-by-mail ballot does not match the signature on file, then the ballot is declared illegal, and the vote is not counted. US District Court Judge Mark E. Walker said the law threatens the right to vote and pointed out that Florida does offer a fix for ballots that come in with no signature at all.
"The issue in this case is whether Florida's statutory scheme, which provides an opportunity to cure no-signature ballots yet denies that same opportunity for mismatched-signature ballots, is legally tenable," he wrote. "The answer is a resounding 'no.'"
    He continued, "It is illogical, irrational, and patently bizarre for the State of Florida to withhold the opportunity to cure from mismatched-signature voters while providing that same opportunity to no-signature voters."
    "This court knows disenfranchisement when it sees it," Walker added, "and it is obscene."
    The ruling is a victory for Florida Democrats who argued that voters with mismatched signatures should be able to submit an affidavit confirming that they cast the ballot in question and proving their identity.
    Ken Detzner, Florida's secretary of state, reviewed the order and forwarded it to supervisors of election in the state informing them to comply.
    Walker, an Obama nominee who sits on the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida, had been deeply critical of Detzner's early filings where the official argued he was not the proper party to be sued.
    The judge concluded his opinion with an unusual flourish referring to a quote from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart about pornography in an obscenity case. "I know it when I see it," Stewart wrote.
    Canvassing of returned vote-by-mail ballots is slated to begin October 24.