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Feds propose voting changes

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Justice Department is eyeing changes to the country’s voting processes to address a myriad of problems including long lines and other voting woes that again shined a spotlight on Florida.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who oversees the agency’s civil rights division, some proposed fixes during a speech at a George Washington Law School symposium last week.

While he didn’t single out Florida by name, many of Perez’s observations reflected problems encountered by voters, including those in Palm Beach County, during early voting and on Election Day. The Justice Department monitored elections in 23 states, including Florida, this year.

Perez said DOJ is still reviewing the federal monitors’ observations.

“But there is at least one obvious takeaway, which the country has spent much of the last week discussing: there were widespread breakdowns in election administration in state after state, which forced voters in many states to wait in line for hours at a time – in some states and counties, up to six hours or more,” Perez said.

Among the changes proposed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who oversees DOJ’s civil rights division, are:
- Automatic registration of all eligible citizens;
- Same-day registration;
- Allowing voters who move to cast regular ballots, instead of provisional ballots that have a greater chance of being discarded, on Election Day.

But Perez went even farther, saying reform is needed regarding “deceptive election practices,” which he called “dishonest efforts to prevent certain voters from casting their ballots.

Florida was one of more than a dozen states that passed elections laws critics say were aimed at making it harder for Democrats and minorities, who helped boost Obama into the White House in 2008, to cast their ballots.

“Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of attempts to gain partisan advantage by keeping people away from the polls – from literacy tests and poll taxes, to misinformation campaigns telling people that Election Day has been moved, or that only one adult per household can cast a ballot,” Perez said.

Perez also addressed the issue of voter fraud, which GOP sponsors and supporters of Florida’s election law (HB 1355) said was the reason behind the changes.

“Let’s work to prevent fraud, but let’s not erect new, unnecessary requirements that have a discriminatory impact. Let’s have a debate on the merits without trying to make it harder for our perceived opponents to vote,” he said.

Provisional ballots are also a concern, Perez said. DOJ is considering whether Congress should impose national standards for counting provisional ballots in federal elections, he said.

And Perez also targeted what he called “partisan mischief” in state and local elections administration.

“We risk leaving our election processes open to partisan mischief – or to the perception of such mischief. We should have a serious conversation about solutions to this risk, including developing an entirely professionalized and non-partisan system for administering our elections,” he said.

Justice Department to monitor elections in 23 states, including FL

Friday, November 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

The U.S. Department of Justice will send 780 federal observers and agency workers to 51 jurisdictions in 23 states, including Florida, to monitor and observer elections on Tuesday, DOJ announced in a press release today.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tallahassee on Friday, is sending staff to Duval County, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange and Osceola counties on Election Day. DOJ is also monitoring Miami-Dade County elections during early voting, the agency announced today.

Hendry and Hillsborough are two of the five “preclearance” counties – along with Collier, Hardee and Monroe – that require federal approval of election law changes because of a history of discrimination against minorities.

“Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, the Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing the federal voting rights laws that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot on Election Day,” DOJ said in the press release.

The federal observers and personnel will collect information about:
_ Whether voters are treated differently based on their race or language,
_ Whether elections offices are complying with minority or minority language provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act,
_ Whether elections offices provide assist to voters who are blind, disabled or can’t read,
_ Whether jurisdictions allow voters with disabilities to cast a private and independent ballot;
_ Whether jurisdictions comply with the voter registration list requirements of the National Voter Registration Act;
_ Whether jurisdictions comply with the provisional ballot requirements of the Help America Vote Act.

The department is sending workers who speak Spanish and a variety of Asian and Native American languages to the monitored areas.

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