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Democrats chide Scott even after state drops plans for voter purge

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Gov. Rick Scott administration’s decision Thursday to drop a controversial plan to remove noncitizens and other ineligible voters from state rolls drew revived attacks from Democrats who had long opposed the effort dubbed Project Integrity.

“This was a mistake from the beginning, and part of a pattern of throwing up roadblocks for Floridians attempting to hold government accountable,” said Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat, who is Scott’s leading re-election rival.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said, “”While this move is clearly an act of damage-control from a campaign in chaos, this represents a major victory for the people of Florida who have suffered so many voter suppression efforts under the Rick Scott administration.”

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said Thursday that he was delaying plans to conduct the voter review before this year’s election because of technical issues  involving the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.

Minority organizations and voter rights groups for months have been urging Scott’s office to drop the review, accusing the governor of trying to shed black- and Hispanic-voters from state rolls.

Detzner, though, said the decision was only made after Homeland Security officials began revamping the data base in an effort not expected to be finished until next year.

 

 

Women voters and business groups urge another look at Medicaid expansion

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Even as Gov. Rick Scott is setting up what critics call obstacles in the path of the Affordable Care Act, some advocates Tuesday began a push for Florida lawmakers to revisit the idea of expanding Medicaid coverage for the state’s poorest residents.

The League of Women Voters of Florida joined with Tampa-area companies and business associations to urge legislators to consider the economic benefits of providing health insurance to the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who still may not qualify or be able to pay for coverage when the federal plan takes effect Jan. 1.

“This makes good business sense for our hospitals by reducing the amount of emergency care they would need to provide for the unisured and it would also help stabilize business health insurance premiums by reducing the need to pass along those costs,” said Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Scott, who earlier this year endorsed the Medicaid expansion, but stood by as the Florida House rejected the approach, has lately raised alarms about the work by “navigators” informing Floridians of their health care options when online marketplaces begin offering insurance Oct. 1.

But Deirdre Macnab, president of the league, said her organization is looking to push more business supporters forward in coming months. She wants the Legislature to revisit expansion next spring.

“No doubt, there will be many bumps on the road,” when it comes to implementing the Affordable Care Act, Mcnab said. “But hopefully, the Florida Legislature will pay attention to the business community and the citizens of this state.”

Justices to decide whether lawmakers must talk about redistricting

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s ruling Republican legislators should be required to testify about whether they violated state law by secretly getting advice from party consultants before drawing new political boundaries, the Supreme Court was told Monday.

Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, attorney for the League of Women Voters of Florida, said that there is no “legislative privilege” which shields lawmakers from giving depositions in lawsuits looking to overturn at least portions of the state’s congressional and state Senate maps approved during last year’s redistricting.

“We have great pride in being an open government state,” D’Alemberte told reporters after an almost hourlong argument before the high court. “If you now can’t get to what the Legislature did…what does that do to the core of our principles about open government. I see this as important on several different levels.”

But Raoul Cantero, a former state Supreme Court justice now representing the Legislature in the case, said that Florida, like all states across the country, protect lawmakers from being forced to testify about the subjective thought process that went into passing legislation.

While Republican leaders have surrendered more than 30,000 documents as public records in the lawsuits underway, the court should not now demand that legislators testify about their actions, Cantero said.

“No court in the country has ever ordered that a legislator testify about the legislative process,” Cantero said following arguments. “If the court were to order depositions in this case, they’d be the first court in this country to do so. We just want (justices) to do what every other state has done.”

 

Health care advocates warn that not expanding Medicaid will hurt business

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s economy will slump if the state Legislature fails to embrace some version of Medicaid expansion, advocates and business analysts warned Wednesday.

The League of Women Voters in Florida and the Florida Health Care Coalition added to a rising wave of summertime drumbeating by supporters of the Affordable Care Act, warning that not extending health coverage to poor Floridians will darken the state’s business climate.

“We’re really working hard to educate everyone that Medicaid is good for individuals, for employers…good for the economy and good for the state budget,” said Karen Van Caulil, president of the Florida Health Care Coalition.

State legislators from Broward and Palm Beach counties have scheduled town hall sessions in coming weeks on health care and the effort to expand Medicaid coverage.

Also, an outreach campaign begins stumping this coming weekend in low-income neighborhoods in Miami and Orlando, as part of the campaign to promote the president’s health care law.

The Legislature ended the 2013 session last month failing to reach agreement on expanding Medicaid. But advocates have been clamoring for lawmakers to revisit the issue, possibly in a special session this fall.  But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, however, has said nothing has changed to ease his chamber’s opposition to a big expansion.

The business card has been played by supporters before. But Wednesday in a conference call with reporters, advocates again warned that by refusing federal dollars for care, lawmakers were missing an opportunity to jolt the state’s economy.

Also, Bill Kramer, a director at the Pacific Business Group on Health, said a “cost shift” already present in Florida will expand as those with insurance have to contribute to covering a large portion of the population without coverage.

Deirdre Macnab, league president, likened it to “quicksand” for Florida businesses.

“This is something the state simply cannot afford as we begin to rebound from recession,” Macnab said.

Florida’s redistricting fight continues on paper trail

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A Republican-allied campaign research and consulting firm surrendered more than 1,800 pages of records this week but asked a judge Thursday to block a demand by Democratic-leaning groups for more emails and documents in a lawsuit over last year’s legislative redistricting battle.

Data Targeting, Inc., a Gainesville-based political affairs firm, said in a motion filed with Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that organizations seeking the records are on an “old-fashioned fishing expedition.”

Lawyers for the company add that documents sought may include “proprietary” information that could threaten relationships with clients and reveal business secrets.

Lewis is expected to rule Friday in the matter, part of a post-redistricting clash that is already in the Florida Supreme Court. There, justices are being asked to dismiss the lawsuit before Lewis, which was filed by the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the National Council of La Raza.

The voter groups contend that redrawn Senate districts should be thrown out because Republican leaders shared data and
maps with political consultants. The voter-approved Fair District amendments to the state constitution prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents.

But the organizations suing say such communication has become evident in the first rounds of data already provided by the Legislature and various consultants subpoenaed in the lawsuit.

Court documents filed earlier with Lewis show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz,
House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s
redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state  party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.

The  Supreme Court last year ruled the Senate’s initial proposal for redrawing the 40-member chamber unconstitutional. The 5-2 decision found  the Senate plan protected incumbents, packed minority voters into districts and numbered Senate districts in a way to give incumbents more time in office.

It marked the first time since the court was brought into that stage of redistricting in 1972 that justices overturned a legislative map. The House map was approved by justices.

FL League of Women Voters: ‘No’ on all 11 proposed constitutional amendments

Thursday, September 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The League of Women Voters of Florida is advising voters to shoot down all 11 proposed constitutional amendments placed on the November ballot by the legislature.

The measures include changes to the state’s property tax system, a state revenue cap, weakening the state constitutional privacy protection used to defend abortion rights and amending the separation of church and state doctrine by allowing public money to be spent on religious schools. Another, Amendment 5, would give the legislature a say in the selection of Supreme Court justices and the courts’ rules.

“From beginning to end, these amendments are bad ideas,” Florida league president Deirdre Macnab told reporters in a telephone conference today. “We are strongly opposing all of the 11 amendments on the ballots and we are encouraging voters to give them a thumbs down.”

League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote get back to work in Florida

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

After a federal judge last week blocked portions of a controversial new election law signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Rock the Vote will get back to work registering voters, the groups announced Wednesday.

“Failure was never an option in this battle against voter suppression,” said LWVF President Deirdre Macnab. “Now it’s time for our volunteers to work overtime to make up for lost ground. Our goal? To make sure every eligible Floridian has the opportunity to have their voice heard and their vote counted.”

On May 31, Tallahassee federal judge Robert Hinkle stopped a 48-hour turnaround requirement in the new law for third party groups to turn in voter registrations to elections supervisors and halted a requirement that the organizations submit to the state the names of all “registration agents,” including those who simply hand out fliers. Hinkle wrote that portions of the law dealing with third party voter organizations likely violated at least two federal laws.

While Hinkle’s preliminary injunction was not a final ruling on the law, he wrote that the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, two of the plaintiffs in the case, were likely to succeed on the merits of their lawsuit, opening the door for the nonpartisan groups to resume their work. The LWVF had registered voters in Florida for more than seven decades prior to the passage of the law, now being challenged in a federal lawsuit in Washington.

Rock the Vote registered more than 100,000 new voters before the 2008 election, the group’s president Heather Smith said last week.

“Florida is an important youth vote state,” Smith said today. “This decision enables us to get back to the work of encouraging a new generation of engaged voters and future leaders.”

Federal judge blocks ‘harsh and impractical’ Florida voter registration restrictions

Thursday, May 31st, 2012 by Dara Kam

A federal judge has issued an injunction barring enforcement of part of Florida’s controversial new election law, ruling that a 48-hour deadline for third party groups to turn in voter registration forms is “harsh and impractical.”

Tallahassee federal Judge Robert Hinkle left intact much of the rest of the law, passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year. Portions of that law are also being challenged in federal court in Washington.

The new law and associated rule “impose burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose, thus rendering them unconstitutional” even if they do not violate the National Voting Rights Act, Hinkle wrote in a 27-page ruling issued today.

The League of Women Voters filed the lawsuit against former Secretary of State Kurt Browning last year after the law went into effect. The league said the new law forced them to stop voter registration drives in Florida after more than seven decades because of the onerous time requirements punishable by up to $1,000 in fines. A variety of other groups, including the ACLU of Florida, joined the lawsuit.

In granting the preliminary injunction, Hinkle ruled that “the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits of their challenge” to some of the provisions of the law and the rules and that voter registration was “working well” before the law was changed last year. Republican lawmakers insisted the new law was designed to discourage fraud.

But Hinkle, wrote, “allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives—thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote—promotes democracy.”

Florida Supreme Court OK’s Senate redistricting map in setback for Democrats

Friday, April 27th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The Florida Supreme Court upheld the latest plan for redrawing state Senate boundaries Friday, a setback for Florida Democrats and allied organizations which had urged justices to declare the map unconstitutional.

“In this proceeding, we conclude that the opponents have failed to demonstrate that the revised Senate plan as a whole or with respect to any individual district violates Florida‘s constitutional requirements,” the court wrote, adding “no motion for rehearing will be entertained. This case is final.”

All seven justices agreed in most of the issues raised in the case. But the court’s two black justices, James Perry and Peggy Quince, dissented in the Legislature’s drawing of Volusia County districts, saying the Senate map badly fractured Daytona Beach’s minority community, apparently to help Republicans win a pair of Senate seats in the region. 

In a 5-2 decision last month, the court had declared the first Senate plan unconstitutional, ruling that eight districts favored incumbents, spanned long distances or packed-in minority voters – all in violation of voter-approved redistricting standards.

Democrats and other groups argued the redrawn map includes many of the same problems. But in arguments before them last Friday, justices expressed misgivings at calls from Democratic lawyers for a wholesale rewrite.

The court last month endorsed the plan for redrawing House districts. If the Legislature’s second attempt at crafting Senate boundaries had been rejected, justices would have been charged with creating the map themselves, a route many seemed uneasy about taking.

Justice Barbara Pariente, who wrote the opinion overturning the first Senate plan, concurred this time and added her own view of critics’ arguments. The Florida Democratic Party, Common Cause of Florida, National Council of La Raza, and the state’s League of Women Voters sought a wholesale rewrite from justices, while the NAACP also pointed to problems with minority districts.

But Pariente, in her concurring opinion, said it wasn’t the court’s place to substitute its work for that of state lawmakers.

“I do not agree that this court has total discretion to substitute its policy preferences for legislative decisions,” Pariente wrote. “Rather, this court‘s role is to determine whether a violation of the constitution has been established.”

 

UPDATE: Bondi sends new Florida Senate maps to Supreme Court, oral arguments set

Thursday, April 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: The Florida Supreme Court has set April 20 for oral arguments on the revised Florida Senate maps submitted for review today by Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Senate has hired former Supreme Court justice Raoul Cantero at $675 an hour to help sell its maps to his former colleagues.

The revised Florida Senate maps are now in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court after Attorney General Pam Bondi sent them to the high court for review today. And the group that backed the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment responsible for the Court’s rejecting the original maps also filed their competing plan, saying the Senate’s modifications still don’t meet muster.

Bondi waited less than 24 hours to send the original maps – rejected by the Court last month – but hung on to the revamped districts for more than a week. She had until April 11 to deliver them. The Court has 60 days to act on the plan, and can approve it or reject it and replace it with one of its own or another, such as the Fair District’s proposal.

Democrats complained that Bondi’s delay was intentional and part of a Republican strategy to pressure the Court and the U.S. Justice Department into hurried scrutiny of the proposed districts. Candidate qualifying for the November elections begins on June 4, meaning political wannabes may be filing to run in districts that may not exist by the time the election rolls around.

Also today, the groups that backed the constitution’s new “Fair Districts” amendment – the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Florida Common Cause – submitted their own version of the Senate’s 40 districts they say are more likely to comply with the amendment that, among other things, bars lawmakers from crafting maps that protect incumbents.

While the Court signed off on the Florida House’s redrawn 120 districts, the justices found the original set of Senate maps “rife with objective indicators of improper intent” and tossed out eight of the 40 Senate’s proposed districts.

“The Court gave the Senate a second chance, but the Senate just did exactly what it has done in every redistricting cycle – drawn districts to protect themselves and their political allies rather than protecting the voting rights of all Floridians. That is why we felt compelled to propose an alternative plan,” LWV president Deirdre Macnab said in a statement.

Voters’ groups want more sunshine on staff work on redistricting

Thursday, March 15th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Organizations which disputed the Legislature’s first round of redistricting fired off a letter Thursday to Senate Reapportionment Chairman Don Gaetz urging that he make public the Senate’s latest attempt at redrawing district boundaries.

The League of Women Voters, La Raza and Common Cause-Florida said they were unhappy with Gaetz’s plan to have legislative staffers draw a new map– with the results only made public Saturday when it will be released as a proposal for the full Senate to consider next week.

“Since the Supreme Court expressly found that the original, ‘Senate plan is rife with objective indicators of improper intent,’ it is crucial that the redrafting process be done in the sunshine so that the people of Florida can know the motivations for drawing each line,” the groups wrote in their letter to Gaetz, R-Niceville.

The league, La Raza and Common Cause submitted their own proposed maps, which the Florida Supreme Court used in rejecting the Senate’s plan in a 5-2 ruling last week.

Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority, cited several examples where the so-called coalition plan’  included more compact districts and avoided packing minority voters within select boundaries, which the court said appeared aimed at helping incumbents win re-election and the ruling Republican Party maintain its dominance in Tallahassee.

The letter concluded, “Senator Gaetz, Floridians should have an opportunity to observe the staff and senators as they redraw and to assess for themselves the intent of the drafters. We urge you to conduct the redrafting process in an open and transparent way that reassures voters about the integrity of our system.”

 

Scott signs congressional plan — court fight to follow

Thursday, February 16th, 2012 by John Kennedy

With no comment or fanfare, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Thursday congressional boundaries approved last week by lawmakers — likely triggering another lawsuit by Democratic-allied organizations.

The Florida Democratic Party has already sued over the congressional plan. But the League of Women Voters, La Raza and Common Cause of Florida said last week they also planned to challenge the congressional map as designed to help ruling Republicans maintain their majority.

The proposal creates 27 congressional districts — up from the current 25 seats, because of population gains revealed in the 2010 Census.

Redrawn House and Senate maps, which also sustain Republican dominance in a majority of seats, are to be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.  Justices are scheduled to hear arguments Feb. 29 on the legality of the maps. Legal briefs are to be filed tomorrow by competing sides in the case.

 The emerging legal fight could prove lengthy. Candidate qualifying for state and federal offices is slated for June 4-8, but it’s possible boundaries may not be settled by then.

Fair Districts advocates blast redistricting plans advancing in Legislature

Friday, January 27th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Organizations which backed the voter-approved constitutional amendments guiding redistricting Friday blasted proposed maps slated to be voted on later in the day by the House Redistricting Committee.

In a 12-page letter to House Redistricting chief Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, former state Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat serving as legal counsel to Fair Districts supporters, effectively urged lawmakers to scrap the plans they’ve been working on.

The League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the National Council of La Raza have submitted an alternate approach to district maps that Weatherford today plans to introduce as an amendment to the House plan.

 The alternate proposal would “nest” three House districts within the 40-seat state Senate plan, making the boundaries more compact and logical for voters, Gelber said in his letter.

Congressional districts also would meander less, under the proposal. House, Senate and congressional maps recommended by the groups also would lean less Republican and prove more reflective of a state where registered voters are closely divided, with Democrats still holding a 500,000-voter edge.

“In sum, we believe that we have provided the committee with alternative proposals that comply with the Fair Districts amendments, while the proposals currently under consideration by the committee and those already passed by the Senate fail to comply with those amendments,” leaders of the organizations concluded in the letter to Weatherford.

The alternate maps likely stand little chance of being approved today.

But the letter lays out what could emerge as the central argument against the legislative maps when Florida’s redistricting effort advances for review to the state Supreme Court and U.S. Justice Department in coming weeks, and when Fair Districts advocate file an expected legal challenge.

Voting rights groups sue Florida over elections law

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A coalition of groups – including the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote and the ACLU - filed a federal lawsuit today against the state over an election law overhaul now being reviewed by a separate federal court in Washington.

The groups are challenging the provision in the law that they say makes it more difficult for groups to conduct voter registration drives.

The lawsuit argues that the new law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring, is an unconstitutional restriction on the rights of speech and association, is confusing and violates the National Voter Registration Act.

After more than 70 years helping to register voters in the state, the League of Women Voters of Florida quit its voter registration efforts after the law went into effect in May. The lawsuit argues that the league dropped its efforts out of “fear they will be unable to comply with the laws myriad requirements and cannot afford to risk incurring large fines or enduring the reputational harms that would result from even an innocent violation.”

The Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, also part of the lawsuit, argues that the new law will make it more expensive for them to register college students to vote. Rock The Vote, a national group that targets voters between the ages of 18 and 29, said it has called off registration drives in Florida because it lacks the resources the new law requires.

The lawsuit also argues that the new law disproportionately affects low-income and minority voters, who tend to sign up to vote through registration drives more than other groups. Critics of the law, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, say Florida’s law, one of 14 across the nation passed by GOP-dominated legislatures and governors this year, is designed to make it harder for low-income, minority and college student voters to register and cast their ballots.

A federal judge in Miami threw out a separate challenge on the law in October, saying it was too early to see whether the new law would be harmful. The ACLU was trying in that case to keep the law from going into effect statewide until it received federal approval for five counties requiring “preclearance” under the Voting Rights Act.

Senate panel schedules Tampa hearing on Fla’s new voter law

Monday, December 12th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Just days before Florida holds its first election under a voter law blasted by Democrats, a Senate panel announced Monday it will hold a hearing in Tampa to gauge public reaction to the new measure.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson spearheaded the call for fellow Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois to bring his Judiciary subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Rights to the state. The panel is scheduled to hold a hearing Jan. 27 in Tampa, four days before Florida’s Republican presidential primary.

Tampa’s Hillsborough County is among five Florida counties where voting law changes must be approved by the federal Justice Department because  past racial conditions threatened voting rights.  Nelson said, “The community has many diverse groups of voters that might be affected the most under Florida’s new law, like seniors, young voters and minorities.  One recent and credible study says new laws like Florida’s could suppress millions of votes nationwide in the 2012 election.”

Democrats have pushed hard against voter laws approved in Florida and 13 other Republican-ruled states which they say are aimed at blunting Democratic turnout in next year’s presidential contest.

 Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a member of Congress from Davie, earlier this month announced that  the party has launched a new website www.protectingthevote.org aimed at informing voters of the new standards — and rallying support for having them overturned.

Florida’s law is already the subject of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and voting rights organizations.

Supporters of the state’s new law deny any partisan motivation, instead saying the stricter standards are merely intended to reduce the risk of voter-fraud.

The new measure reduces the number of days available for early voting, while also imposes tighter reporting standards for third-party groups that register voters.  But a study earlier this year by the Brennan Center for Justice found that Florida’s law is part of a larger mosaic of stricter standards which could keep 5 million people nationwide from voting next year.

 

 

Graham leads new Conservation Coalition seeking to revive state programs

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham led a gathering of activists Wednesday calling for Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders to preserve the state’s water resources, while renewing its longstanding commitment to the environment.

“We need strong gubernatorial leadership to reverse the damage that’s been done,” Graham told a rally at the state Capitol.

Graham debuted Wednesday as leader of the Florida Conservation Coalition, which includes Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Trust for Public Land and League of Women Voters. The coalition plans to lobby Scott and the Republican-led Legislature to restore funding to water quality programs, the Florida Forever land-buying program, and Everglades restoration, which supporters say have been staggered by budget cuts since 2007.

Graham was joined by state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, Nathaniel Reed of 1000 Friends of Florida and representatives of environmental groups, which generally praised Scott’s environmental stance, but blasting legislative moves which reduced oversight and dollars for green programs.

Advocates derided the Legislature for approving a $210 million cut in water management district property taxes, which has led to wholescale staff layoffs and program reductions, the most profound occuring at the South Florida Water Management District. Graham said taxes were “reduced by the amount of two pizzas a year,” but that the cuts did wide-ranging harm to existing programs and services.

Environmentalists, though, withheld direct criticism of Scott, who campaigned for the reduction and embraced the  cuts. Instead, Graham, apparently buoyed by recent Scott comments which underscored the need for effective environmental policy and Everglades restoration, urged conservationists to “join Scott’s army.”

Graham also warned the coalition planned to hold lawmakers accountable for actions which hurt Florida’s environment.

“We want to alert the voters in 2012 who was responsible for what happened in 2011,” Graham said.

Nelson wants Justice Department to investigate new voter laws

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

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.

 

Nelson tells Senate new voter laws violate ‘basic rights’

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 by John Kennedy

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called Tuesday for the Senate to hold hearings across Florida and other states where Republican-led legislative majorities approved strict new voting standards.

Nelson first made his request last week, in a letter to Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, the Democrat heading a judiciary subcommittee overseeing the constitution and civil rights. But he echoed his demand Tuesday before the full Senate.

 “No state should have the right to make a law if it abridges people’s basic rights,” said Nelson, who wants the hearings held in Florida and 13 other states that have enacted new voting laws.

Boca Raton Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch last summer called for congressional hearings into the changes, which Democrats and their allies say are designed to block and disenfranchise voters, particularly minorities and Democratic-leaning college students.

The goal of these Republican-ruled state legislatures is to reduce voter turnout in next year’s presidential contest, critics say. The ACLU and other voting rights groups have already sued to stop implementation of the law.  A study by the Brennan Center for Justice found the laws could keep 5 million people from voting next year.

Supporters of the measures deny any partisan motivation, instead saying the stricter standards are intended to reduce voter-fraud.

 

Fair District backers want Cannon to call off the lawyers

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Days after a Miami judge ruled against a pair of Florida members of Congress, leaders of the so-called Fair Districts campaign Wednesday called on House Speaker Dean Cannon to abandon financing any further challenges to the voter-approved standard for drawing congressional district lines.

“We believe that it is time for the Florida Legislature to quit using taxpayer money to battle its own constituents,” Dan Gelber, a former Democratic state senator wrote on behalf of Fair Districts supporters. “Your efforts in this case are nothing more than an ill-advised attempt to obstruct a reform the people overwhelmingly supported.

“Surely, given the state’s economic challenges, there are better uses for taxpayer dollars,” Gelber concluded.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro dismissed the lawsuit by U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, who sought to have Amendment 6 declared unconstitutional. The House had intervened in the case, but Cannon insisted it was only because the Legislature would have to implement whatever ruling came out of the court.

Now that the court effectively ended the legal challenge, the NAACP, League of Women Voters, and other backers of the Fair Districts effort — mostly Democratic-allied organizations — said the Republican speaker ought to also call off the lawyers.

A Cannon spokeswoman, Katie Betta, said the speaker was still reviewing the judge’s order and hadn’t yet determined the House’s next step.

 

League of Women Voters, others urge Justice Dept. reject new Florida elections law

Friday, July 15th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The League of Women Voters and other voter-advocacy organizations urged Justice Department officials Friday to reject the state’s new elections law, arguing that it creates hurdles for minorities and low-income voters.

The Brennan Center for Justice, Democracia USA and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law wrote federal officials critical of the new legislation, which is already subject of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and other groups.

In their 25-page letter, the organizations contend the law violates the Voting Rights Act.  The league and others are asking that Justice Department officials examine three areas, alleging:

The law will restrict the opportunity and ability of citizens and grassroots organizations to conduct voter registration drives by imposing burdensome and wholly unnecessary regulations and red tape;

The law will reduce the number of days in the state’s early voting period, and possibly cut early voting hours as well; 

The law will make it impossible for registered voters who have recently moved within Florida, from one county to another, to provide notice of their change of address on election day and still cast a regular ballot.

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