Browning sidesteps Obama admin, goes to federal court for approval of Florida election lawby Dara Kam | July 29th, 2011
Secretary of State Kurt Browning has asked a federal court to approve Florida’s new election law, sidestepping the U.S. Justice Department on the most controversial portions of the voting overhaul approved by the GOP-dominated legislature in May and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.
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. The ACLU and other groups are currently challenging the new law in federal court in Miami. Scott, who re-appointed Browning, last week asked the judge in that case to remove him from the lawsuit. Jesse Jackson held rallies in Florida this week protesting the new law.
On Friday, Browning withdrew four portions of the law – including those currently being challenged in federal court – from the preclearance application. Federal approval is required for five Florida counties under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
In a press release, Browning hinted that the state wouldn’t get a fair evaluation from the Democratic president’s administration.
“The purpose of filing in the federal district court is to ensure that the changes to Florida’s election law are judged on their merits by eliminating the risk of a ruling impacted by outside influence,” Browning said in the release. “Since the passage of HB 1355, we have seen misinformation surrounding the bill increase. By asking a court to rule on certain aspects of the bill, we are assured of a neutral evaluation based on the facts.”
Browning had the option of submitting the new law to the Justice Department, the usual method of getting new election laws approved, or a three-judge panel. He originally asked for federal preclearance from Justice officials in June.
But on Friday, Browning withdrew part of the application and instead asked the court to evaluate:
- Third party registrations: The new law requires third party voter registration organizations to submit completed applications to county elections supervisors within 48 hours. Previously, the groups were given up to 10 days to turn in the forms. The change is one that the League of Women Voters said forced them to discontinue registering voters.
- Change of address: The new law requires voters who’ve moved from one county to another to cast a provisional ballot on election day if they want to change their address at the polls. Supporters say this is aimed at reducing voter fraud. Opponents say that provisional ballots have a much higher chance of not being counted, and low-income voters move more frequently than affluent voters.
- Early voting: The new law keeps the same number of hours for early voting – 96 – but decreases the number of days from 14 to 8 days prior to an election.
- Petition signature verification: The new law imposes new restrictions on petition signature gatherers and shortens the length of time they can be used for ballot initiatives from four to two years.
Florida is one among other states, including Texas and Wisconsin, where GOP-dominated legislatures have passed elections overhauls that opponents say are aimed at suppressing Democratic votes. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, asked for a federal investigation into the states’ elections overhauls.