Browning asks court to scrap federal oversight of Florida election lawsby Dara Kam | October 11th, 2011
Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning today asked a court to do away with federal approval of changes to the state’s elections laws in five counties under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, alleging that the that part of the Act is unconstitutional.
Browning also asked a three-judge federal court panel in Washington to expedite its review of four election law changes approved by lawmakers this spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Browning went to the court in July for approval after initially submitting the new laws to the U.S. Department of Justice for “preclearance,” required for under federal law for five counties – Hendry, Collier, Hardee, Hillsborough and Monroe – with a history of racial discrimination against voters.
The federal law covers the Florida counties as well as six other southern states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana,
Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia – Alaska, and counties in North Carolina, Arizona, Hawaii, and Idaho.
Under changes to the Voting Rights Act approved by Congress in 1972, the preclearance is required for jurisdictions in which at the time less than 50 percent of the voting-age citizens were registered to vote or voted in the presidential election, had a non-English-speaking population of more than five percent, and provided voting materials only in English.
“I am hopeful the federal court will come to a quick resolution and approve the remaining provisions of our preclearance submission as nondiscriminatory,” Browning said in a statement. “However, I am frustrated that the reason we are still waiting to implement Florida law in five counties is because of an arbitrary and irrational coverage formula based on data from 40 years ago that takes no account of current conditions.”
All changes to the state’s new elections laws must be approved by the Justice Department or by a federal court, a rare move according to elections experts.
Browning asked the court to rule on the new elections laws before the end of the year. If not, that could pose problems for Floridians voting in the GOP primary now slated for Jan. 31 because the five counties would not be operating under the same laws as the rest of the state. State law requires that voting laws be uniform statewide.
Instead of getting federal approval for the four most controversial portions of the state’s new elections laws, Browning went to court, making U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder a defendant in the case.
Florida is one of more than a dozen states that passed elections laws this spring that critics object are aimed at keeping low-income, minority and college-student voters – who typically vote for Democrats and helped President Obama win the 2008 presidential election – away from the polls.
The ACLU and others are challenging the new elections laws in federal court in Miami.