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University of Florida prohibits professors from testifying in voter restrictions lawsuit

The trio was being sought to testify for a group of voting rights organizations that filed a lawsuit against the implementation of SB 90 in May.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Three University of Florida political science professors are being kept from testifying on Florida's implementation of a voting restrictions law, court documents show.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on Oct. 29, documents show that Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald, Sharon Austin have been "disapproved" by the university to provide legal consulting in the lawsuit.

"UF will deny its employees’ requests to engage in outside activities when it determines the activities are adverse to its interests. As UF is a state actor, litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests," one of the filings read.

Another cited the professor's involvement as posing a potential conflict of interest to the state's executive branch, while also creating a conflict for UF.

The trio was being sought to testify for a group of voting rights organizations that filed a lawsuit against the implementation of SB 90 in May.

The legislation changes Florida's vote-by-mail system, including restricting drop box use to a county's early voting hours rather than allowing ballots to be dropped off 24/7, making in-person monitoring of all drop box locations mandatory as well as a whole host of other security measures for vote-by-mail. Voters would also be required to submit vote-by-mail requests every election cycle instead of every two cycles.

Democratic lawmakers have said the law will make it harder for seniors, people of color, and individuals with disabilities to vote. The legal complaint also asserts that the new law violates the Voting Rights Act and disproportionately disenfranchises Black and Brown voters.

“Every voter, regardless of race, background or zip code, should be able to make themselves heard at the ballot box,” Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project National Office said earlier this year. “SB 90 aggressively and discriminately violates this principle by imposing barriers on voters of color and disproportionately locking them out of democracy.”

The professors being prohibited from testifying has also sparked concerns regarding free speech. NPR reports the professor's attorney sent a letter to UF calling its decision "unacceptable."

"Faculty do not forfeit their First Amendment rights as citizens by accepting an offer of employment with UF," the outlet reports Paul Donnelly wrote. "Professors Smith, McDonald, and Austin testify as expert witnesses in their fields on their own time. Their testimony does not interfere with any of their job duties. There are no conflicts of interest."

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