Florida seeks Justice Dept. preclearance for new elections lawby John Kennedy | June 8th, 2011
The U.S. Justice Department was asked by Florida officials Wednesday to approve the state’s sweeping new elections law for five counties that need such preclearance under the federal Voting Rights Act.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning submitted documents detailing law changes under CS/HB 1355, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law May 18 over opposition from legislative Democrats, the League of Women Voters, NAACP and other organizations.
Critics of the law said it is designed to blunt Democratic turnout and weaken voter registration efforts in advance of the 2012 elections.
The ACLU of Florida, the national ACLU, and Project Vote, a Washington, D.C., voters’ rights organization, sued last week in Miami federal court to stop statewide implementation of the law until Justice Department approval is obtained.
Browning had said earlier that he would not seek to enforce the state’s new standards in Hendry, Collier, Hardee, Hillsborough and Monroe counties until receiving Justice Department approval.
But he has gone ahead and ordered the new law to take effect in Florida’s 62 other counties, a move which triggered the ACLU legal challenge.
State and federal law require the state to have uniform elections laws.
“It looks like Browning is now trying to speed-up the process in hopes of covering up the mistake he made by ordering the law to take effect,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida.
Browning has defended his action, saying the new measure was to take effect upon becoming law. He acknowledged that preclearance was needed before the measure could be enforced in the five counties.
The Justice Department has at least 60 days to review documents submitted Wednesday by Browning.
Critics of the new law say it is designed to make registering to vote and casting ballots more difficult for minorities and low-income voters, who typically vote Democratic. Scott and Republican legislative leaders said the new standards
The law imposes strict regulation of third-party registration groups, including requiring that they turn in registration forms within 48 hours after they are signed. It also reduces the number of days available for early voting in Florida, although county election supervisors are required to maintain the same, 98 hours made available before Election Day.