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Another elections challenge in Florida

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, a pair of voting-rights organizations have filed yet another challenge to Florida’s election law.

Joyner, the ACLU and the National Council of La Raza are accusing the state of essentially creating two voting systems in Florida, a violation of federal voting laws that require “uniformity.”

The challenge, filed in the Division of Administrative Hearings today, deals with the Gov. Rick Scott administration’s decision to allow portions of the new law to go into effect everywhere in the state except five counties that require federal “preclearance” before election law changes can go into effect.

Section 5 of the National Voting Rights Act require federal oversight for elections in Hendry, Collier, Hardee, Hillsborough and Monroe – with a history of racial or language 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.

The U.S. Department of Justice, the ACLU, La Raza and other civil and voting rights groups are fighting Florida over the four most controversial portions of the election law in federal court in Washington.

Those portions include a reduction of the number of days for early voting and restrictions on when voters can change their addresses at the polling place. A federal judge in Tallahassee struck down two other portions of the law dealing with third party voter registration groups, but those remain at issue in the Washington case.

“These are not trivial changes of laws or practices that might be applied differently to allow for local idiosyncrasies; they bear directly on rights that are central to the electoral process,” the complaint reads. “The establishment of this dual regulatory system by the Secretary is the antithesis of uniformity.”

The new law does away with early voting the Sunday before the general election. But civil rights groups argue that’s the day that many black voters participated in “Souls to the Polls” when church-goers cast their ballots after attending services.

Critics of the new law say it is aimed at keeping minorities, low-income and college students – who helped boost President Obama into the White House four years ago – from being able to vote for his reelection in November.

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