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Split civil rights commissioners ask for Justice Department probe of Florida election law

by Dara Kam | December 12th, 2012

A split U.S. Commission on Civil Rights decided Friday not to look into Florida’s election law, rejecting a request from the state’s Democratic Congressional delegation to hold a hearing on the matter.

But four of the commissioners – all Democrats – asked the Justice Department to conduct a probe into the law, passed last year by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott. The four commissioners, including Chairman Martin Castro, sent the request to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, chief of the civil rights division.

Florida’s Congressional Democrats asked for the hearing after The Palm Beach Post reported that former Florida GOP officials, including Gov. Charlie Crist, said that Republicans staff and consultants intentionally designed the law to inhibit Democratic voters.

U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz – who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee – and the three other members of the Democratic congressional delegation wrote to the commission late last month that the law “limited access to the polls for minorities, seniors and college students.”

The information raised in the delegations’ letter “raises some serious concerns,” Castro and Commissioners Roberta Achtenberg, Michael Yaki and David Kladney wrote in a letter to Perez dated Monday.

Kladney told The Palm Beach Post late Wednesday that he voted in favor of a commission study of the law because of the long lines experienced by Florida voters. In some places, including Palm Beach County, voters waited up to eight hours before casting their ballots during the early voting period shortened from 14 to eight days under the new law.

“Obviously a lot of people waited in line but others didn’t, voters of all different kinds of political persuasions and political beliefs,” Kladney said. “I think it would be good for the Civil Rights Commission to conduct a fair hearing on the subject because it’s within our charter.”

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