Feds sign off on bulk of Florida election overhaul but controversial parts still in limboby Dara Kam | August 9th, 2011
Federal officials have signed off on the bulk of Florida’s elections overhaul but the most controversial portions remain in limbo.
The U.S. Department of Justice approved 76 measures included in the new law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature this spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.
But last month, Secretary of State Kurt Browning sidestepped President Obama’s administration and instead asked a federal court to approve the most controversial components of the new law.
“I am appreciative of the work the DOJ has done to approve Florida’s new election laws,” Browning said in statement today. “Their decision confirms what we already know, that Florida’s new election laws are fair and not discriminatory. I expect the federal district court will also agree that the new laws are fair when it reviews the remaining provisions.”
Five counties in Florida – Collier, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – require federal “preclearance” before new election laws can go into effect to make sure the changes do are not discriminatory.
The ACLU and other groups are currently challenging the new law in federal court in Miami, saying it is designed to make registering to vote and casting ballots more difficult for minorities and low-income voters who typically vote Democratic. Scott, who re-appointed Browning, asked the judge in that case to remove him from the lawsuit. Jesse Jackson held rallies in Florida late last month protesting the new law.
The portions of the new law still awaiting approval from the federal three judge panel deal with third party voter registrations, changes of address, early voting hours and petition signature verification. Browning said he expects a court ruling before next year’s presidential primary.
Read more about the four provisions still hanging after the jump.
- 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.