Nelson wants Justice Department to investigate new voter lawsby John Kennedy | November 3rd, 2011
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whose bid for a third term next year may be hinged on a strong turnout among Florida Democrats, continued to put heat on the strict new elections law approved earlier this year by the Republican-ruled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.
Nelson on Thursday called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether new standards that took effect in Florida and 13 other states are part of a GOP-backed effort at keeping minorities, college students and other Democratic-leaning voters from the polls.
“These voting changes could make it significantly harder for an estimated five-million eligible voters in numerous states to cast their ballots in 2012,” Nelson wrote, in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, citing the findings of the first comprehensive study of the voting laws’ impact by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Florida’s new law imposes tougher requirements on such third-party organizations as unions, the NAACP and the League of Women Voters when helping citizens register to vote. The league announced earlier this year that it was abandoning its traditional voter registration efforts in Florida because it feared penalties stemming from any possible violations.
The law, which is being challenged as unconstitutional by the ACLU and other groups, also reduces the number of days in Florida available for early voting.
Nelson is facing a five-man field of Republicans seeking to challenge him. And in the last 10 days, he’s sought to keep questions about the new elections law simmering.
Nelson has met with a Volusia County teacher warned for apparently violating the new law by helping students register — with the senator then writing Scott urging that he soften the new law. Nelson also has taken to the Senate floor to condemn the law as violating basic constitutional rights, urging that a committee hold public hearings in states where new laws have taken effect.