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Florida elections package passes first committee

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Elections supervisors would be able to hold early voting from eight to 14 days for up to 12 hours per day and have a broader array of early voting sites under a proposal unanimously approved by the House Ethics and Elections Committee this morning.

The plan also would impose a 75-word limit on the constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the legislature but only for the first attempt. The full text of amendments struck down by the court and rewritten by the attorney general would be allowed.

The changes are the legislature’s attempt to do away with the long early voting and Election Day lines that once again cast an unwelcome national spotlight on Florida’s fall elections. The proposal mirrors the supervisors of elections’ legislative wish-list, also backed by Secretary of State Ken Detzner, and a yet-to-be-released proposal from the state Senate.

The GOP-controlled legislature shrank the number of early voting days from 14 to eight in a sweeping 2011 bill (HB 1355), signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, the sponsor of HB 1355, said Wednesday morning the new plan should help fix some of the problems voters encountered in the 2012 elections but stopped short of saying his bill that shortened early voting was a mistake and that supervisors needed the full two weeks.

“They need something. And that’s what they asked for and said would help them. So we’re trying to be responsive. I think allowing them more discretion and more time is certainly part of the answer,” Baxley, R-Ocala, said after the vote.

Republicans have repeatedly pointed out that the long lines were isolated in just a handful of counties, including Palm Beach where some voters waited more than eight hours to cast their ballots.

Sonya Gibson, a West Palm Beach educator and activist with the left-leaning Florida New Majority, shared her voting experience with the committee Wednesday morning.

She said she waited about nine hours to vote at the Westgate Community Center before giving up and returning on Election Day with her three daughters, who also voted. She said they waited at the same location for nearly 10 hours on Election Day before casting their ballots.

Former GOP officials and consultants, including former Gov. Charlie Crist, said the 2011 law was designed to curb Democratic turnout after Obama’s Florida victory in 2008.

Gibson called the House measure a “face-saving” measure for Republican lawmakers but a good start.

“At this point, it is time to move forward,” she said. “It’s not anymore about who did what, who didn’t say what or who did say what. It’s about moving forward so you can get the best results for our fellow Floridians, so that we can be an example.”

House Democrats, who withdrew nine amendments to the bill, vowed to push to broaden the bill, including doing away with a requirement in 1355 that forced more voters to cast provisional ballots if they moved outside of the county. Provisional ballots have a greater chance of not being counted and take longer to process at the polls. But they, too, agreed the bill was a good starting point.

“The reality is that this bill ggoes a long way towards repairing the damage that 1355 caused. Democrats spoke extensively against 1355 because we anticipated the problems that actually occurred. This bill starts to remedy that situation,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, who does not serve on the committee but is one of House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston’s top lieutenants.

Nelson backing federal elections proposal capping voting waits at one hour

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Reacting to Floridians who stood in line for up to eight hours before casting their ballots last year, Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is pushing a measure that would set a national goal of a maximum of a one-hour wait at any polling place during federal elections.

Nelson is co-sponsoring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s “LINE, or Lines Interfere with National Elections act, filed by the California Democrat last year in reaction to long lines in Florida, Virginia and Ohio.

In Palm Beach County, some voters waited more than seven hours at the Lantana Road Branch Library on the last day of early voting.

“In the interest of fairness and to avoid undermining the credibility of our elections, we should be making voting more convenient, not more difficult,” Nelson said in a press release today. “People should not have to stand in line for hours to exercise a basic right, not in a Democracy like ours.”

President Obama is expected to highlight the need to address voting problems in his State of the Union address tonight, where a 102-year-old Florida woman who waited more than three hours to vote will be a guest of the First Lady.

In his inaugural address, the president said: “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

The Boxer bill would require the U.S. attorney general to issue new national standards by Jan. 1, 2014 regarding the minimum number of voting machines, election workers and other election resources necessary to hold federal elections. And it would require that minimum standards take into account the number of eligible voters, recent voter turnout, the number of new voter registrations, Census data for each polling place and the socio-economic makeup of the voting population.

In 2011, the GOP-dominated legislature shortened the early voting period from 14 to eight days despite long lines in 2008 that prompted then-Gov. Charlie Crist to extend the number of early voting hours. Former GOP officials, including Crist (who is now a Democrat) said the law was intentionally designed to inhibit Democratic turnout in 2012.

102-year-old Florida woman who waited hours to vote to join Michelle Obama for State of the Union

Monday, February 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Desiline Victor (Photo courtesy of Advancement Project)

A 102-year-old Florida woman who waited more than three hours to vote before casting her ballot in North Miami will join First Lady Michelle Obama at President Obama’s state of the union address tomorrow night, highlighting his pledge to do something about the problems last fall that again cast an unwelcome spotlight on Florida elections.

Desiline Victor, a Haitian-born U.S. citizen and former Belle Glade farm worker, waited three hours to vote on Oct. 28 at a public library.

According to Advancement Project, the civil rights group that has worked with Victor and is bringing her to Washington, Victor waited in line for three hours at a Miami-Dade County public library on Oct. 28. After others standing in line with the elderly woman complained to Miami-Dade County election staff, she was told to come back later in the day when there wouldn’t be as long to wait and more Creole language assistance would be available. She cast her ballot later on her return trip to the early voting site.

“We know that thousands of American citizens were kept from casting their ballots because of long lines and other unacceptable barriers. In a democracy, we have a responsibility to keep voting free, fair and accessible with equal access to the ballot for all. These problems could be fixed with federal voting standards that include early voting, modernized registration and other measures that protect our right to vote. Currently, we have 13,000 different jurisdictions who run elections 13000 different ways,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project.

Florida’s GOP-controlled legislature in 2011 shortened the state’s early voting period from 14 to eight days despite long lines in 2008 that prompted then-Gov. Charlie Crist to extend early voting hours. Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the bill (HB 1355) into law, now supports a flexible eight-to-14 day early voting period and leaving it up to the local supervisors to choose the number of days.

U.S. Sen. Boxer files ‘LINE’ Act to cap voting waits at one hour

Thursday, December 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A four hour wait to vote may be OK for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, but it’s unacceptable to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who introduced legislation targeting long lines in Florida, Virginia and Ohio.

Boxer’s proposed “LINE,” or Lines Interfere with National Elections, Act would set national standards of a maximum waiting time of one hour at any polling place in federal elections. And the bill would require states, including Florida, where voters waited in long lines to implement plans to fix the problems before the next federal election.

Boxer filed her bill the day after Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner told a state House committee that Scott set a four-hour wait as “underperforming” for county elections offices.

Boxer’s proposal would require the U.S. Attorney General to issue new national standards by Jan. 1, 2014 regarding the minimum number of voting machines, election workers, and other election resources necessary to hold federal elections, according to a press release issued by her office.

The legislation is intended “to deal directly with the problem of dysfunction at polling places around the country,” including Florida, Virginia and Ohio, the press release states.

Boxer also is pressuring U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to “take immediate steps to address the long lines experienced around the country.” Voters in some areas in Florida waited up to eight hours to cast their ballots during early voting and on Election Day.

“I will be working tirelessly to enact the LINE Act into law, but in the meantime I urge you to ensure that no citizen, regardless of ethnicity or income level, is effectively denied the right to vote by unreasonable and unnecessary lines,” Boxer wrote in a letter to Holder yesterday.

Florida Congressional Democrats seek federal probe of voting law

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida’s Democratic U.S. House members, including Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have asked the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to hold a hearing regarding Florida’s voting law that shrunk the number of early voting days, required more voters to cast provisional ballots and was intended to curb voter registration by outside groups.

The Democratic delegation asked for the hearing based on a report in The Palm Beach Post on Sunday that detailed how Republican Party of Florida consultants and staff sought to alter Florida’s early voting laws in the aftermath of the 2008 election to curb Democratic turnout.

“In light of these allegations, we are extremely concerned over the integrity of this law and the justification for its implementation,” U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson and Wasserman Schultz wrote to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Chairman Martin Castro in a letter sent today. “As you know, trust in our democracy is what holds our country together. Voters must be able to trust that their elected officials are acting in their best interest.”

The commission held hearings in Florida in the aftermath of the protracted 2000 election and made numerous recommendations based on its findings, many of which were included in the Help America Vote Act passed by Congress in 2002.

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.

Coalition calls for Florida voting changes, federal investigation

Monday, November 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A coalition of unions, civil rights groups and left-leaning organizations is demanding a rewrite of Florida’s election laws and is seeking a federal inquiry into long lines during early voting and on Election Day.

“Now marks 12 years of Florida being a voting disaster area,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project that sued the state on behalf of the NAACP after the 2000 presidential debacle. “We will be looking into further investigating what happened in Florida in 2012 just like we did in 2000.”

The Advancement Project, Florida New Majority Education Fund, two Democratic state senators and the union representing state workers said on a conference call with reporters today that long lines voters faced on Election Day and during early voting appeared to disproportionately impact minority voters who typically vote for Democrats.

That proves that lawmakers were seeking to suppress Democratic turnout with HB 1355, a sweeping election bill passed last year that shrank the number of early voting days and affected voters who move from one county to another.

“It’s increasingly coming out that this was not just a case of misadministration or bad management,” said Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority.

Perera pointed to a Palm Beach Post report that found that the architect of HB 1355, Republican Party of Florida general counsel Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell, was also a senior lawyer at the state Division of Elections in 2000 and was the mastermind of the error-riddled felon voter purge list.

“As more and more of this comes out, it appears a systematic effort to suppress voters. And that is a crime against democracy. There needs to be investigations about what happened and why, whether that be the Department of Justice, congressional hearings or the UN,” he said. “But people who are responsible for making this not a democracy need to be held accountable.”

The coalition is asking lawmakers to repeal HB 1355 and:
- Reinstate the 14-day early voting period and extend the number of voting hours each day to 12;
- Allow more early voting sites based on the number of voters in each county;
- Give county elections supervisors more flexibility with early voting site locations, now restricted to elections offices, public libraries and city halls;
- Permit people voting outside of their precinct to vote a regular ballot on statewide or county-wide races.

But state Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat who saw long lines in many precincts in his district, said he holds little hope that the Republican-dominated legislature, which passed the elections bill over the objections of Democrats, and Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the bill into law, would make the changes.

Scott also refused to extend early voting hours despite long lines, Braynon said. The Justice Department has oversight of the Voting Rights Act, which includes provisions making it unlawful to discriminate against minorities in elections.

“One of the first steps is to file a complaint with the federal government, whether it be with the Department of Justice on the Voting Rights Act violation. I think the intent was there and I think we may have it rise to the level of a federal investigation as to was this actually intended voter suppression with a full conspiracy and everything,” Braynon said. “As much as I believe that my colleagues in the legislature believe in democracy, I just don’t believe that the governor, as he has proven with his reaction to the long lines and also with the signing of and why 1355 was even created, that they’re going to assist us with this effort.”

Some elections officials blamed the long lines not only the shortened early voting period but on the lengthy ballot which included 11 proposed constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the GOP-dominated legislature. In Palm Beach County during early voting, the ballots had to be printed individually, add to the logjam.

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.

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.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney tells feds to butt out of Florida voter purge

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney told Attorney General Eric Holder to stop meddling in Gov. Rick Scott’s effort to clean up the voter rolls in Florida, accusing Holder of “blatant politicization” of the non-citizen voter purge.

The Justice Department last week told Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner the voter purge may violate two federal laws and gave Detzner until today to respond to its request to drop the scrub.

Scott has given no indication he’s going to back down, and Detzner insists that the law requires him to ensure the voter rolls are accurate.

Rooney, a Tequesta Republican, is the latest official to wade into the political fray over the purge, which has sparked a national partisan dust-up. Democrats blame the Scott administration of trying to keep minorities and Hispanics – who dominate the list of 2,600 flagged voters given to elections officials in April – from going to the polls in November. Republicans accuse critics of the purge, including Holder, of wanting to break the law by allowing ineligible voters to cast their ballots.

Rooney’s letter mirrors a legal analysis by a former Justice Department lawyer who says Holder is wrong.

“Your actions further demonstrate that the Department of Justice, under your leadership, is more concerned with protecting the reelection prospects of the President than with upholding justice and enforcing the rule of law,” Rooney wrote in a letter sent today.

The News Service of Florida reported that Scott earlier today defended the purge, which he initiated last year, and said he hopes to have a response to the Justice Department today and defended the purge.

“Not a single eligible voter as far, as I know, has been removed from the voter rolls,” Scott said in an interview with WNDB radio in Daytona Beach, where Scott was Wednesday. “Not one. And we’re working to keep it that way.”

Scott insisted the purge is necessary to maintain voters’ confidence in the elections process.

“Their vote should not be diluted by people who don’t have the right to vote,” Scott said. “We need to be reviewing our voter rolls and making sure only those individuals who have the right to vote … are voting.”

Meanwhile, the state’s elections supervisors have dropped the voter purge because the data they received was too flawed and they want to wait until the issue is sorted out by Scott and the feds or the courts. The 67 supervisors are the only ones who can actually remove voters from the rolls.

UPDATE: Elections supervisors to quit processing voter purge list

Friday, June 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Elections supervisors will stop using a flawed list of potential non-citizens to scrub the voter rolls, Martin County Supervisor of Elections Vicki Davis, president of the state’s elections supervisors association, said this morning.

The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday told Secretary of State Ken Detzner that the voter purge process, launched by Detzner in April, appears to violate at least two federal voting laws. DOJ gave Detzner until June 6 to respond.

The Justice Department letter and the problematic list make the scrub undoable, Davis said.

“That’s why we’re just stopping. There are just too many variables with this entire process at this time for supervisors to continue,” Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said.

Ron Labasky, the association’s general counsel, is sending a memo to the state’s 67 elections supervisors this morning telling them to stop processing the list, Davis said.

“My advice under these circumstances, and based upon the previous issues that have been presented concerning the list, as well as the fact that the Department has indicated its intent to take further actions to review its list to determine its validity, I recommend that Supervisors of Elections cease any further action until the issues were raised by the Department of Justice are resolved between the parties or by a Court,” Labasky wrote to the supervisors today.

Detzner in April sent a list of more than 2,600 flagged voters identified as potential non-citizens by matching the state’s voter registration database with driver’s license records. But the error-riddled list included the names of U.S.-born citizens – like one Brooklyn-born war hero – and others who are naturalized citizens.

At their summer meeting last month, elections supervisors of both parties raised objections to the list to state Division of Elections officials, who then said the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles would scrub the list more carefully using a Department of Homeland Security database.

But yesterday, Labasky told the supervisors that Detzner’s office said DHSMV could not run the names through the federal database. Detzner, a Republican, also yesterday again asked Homeland Security officials for access to the database.

The non-citizen purge list – the brainchild of Republican Gov. Rick Scott – has created a national firestorm over elections in crucial swing-state Florida and has sparked a partisan battle over what to do next.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry this morning announced an online campaign to get people to contact the White House and ask for access to the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, or SAVE, database.

Democrats say the voter purge process is part of a GOP effort to keep voters away from the polls in November.

A federal judge yesterday blocked portions of a controversial elections law passed last year, saying a 48-hour requirement for third party groups to turn in voter registration forms was “harsh and impractical.”

UPDATE: Voting rights groups ask Scott to stop non-citizen voter purge

Thursday, May 24th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A coalition of voting rights groups is asking Gov. Rick Scott to stop a statewide effort to purge thousands of potential non-citzens from the voting rolls, and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, also plans to ask the governor to stop the scrub.

Lawyers for the groups said in a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner that the voting purge is in violation of the National Voting Rights Act which prohibits systematic purging of the voter rolls 90 days prior to a general election. The purge effort falls within that 90-day prohibition because of Florida’s Aug. 14 primary.

Last month, Detzner sent a list of more than 2,600 potentially ineligible voters to the state’s 67 elections supervisors flagged as potentially ineligible by matching driver’s license and voting records. But the list was riddled with errors and included some voters who were born in the U.S. and others who had become citizens since getting their driver’s licenses or state-issued ID cards. Detzner’s office then went to work on scrubbing a list of up to 180,000 flagged voters whose citizenship is in question.

Last week, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles officials said they would begin a more exhaustive vetting of the list by using a federal database with more up-to-date citizenship information. The list is exacerbating an already strained relationship between state and local elections officials as the November general election approaches.

Project Vote, Fair Elections Legal Network, Advancement Project, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, LULAC Florida, and the Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition asked Detzner to abandon the non-citizen initiative, prompted by Gov. Rick Scott after he took office in 2010.

Many of the voters on the list are Hispanics, which could also be a violation of the NVRA which requires state voter list maintenance programs to be uniform and non-discriminatory, lawyers for the groups said.

“The right to vote is the fundamental pillar of our democracy. Florida has a shameful history of purging minority voters based on false information and inaccurate lists right before the presidential elections,” Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, said in a press release. “This year’s deeply flawed process disproportionately targets Latino voters and is discriminatory, unfair and antithetical to the values of our nation.”

Detzner’s spokesman Chris Cate said the group is wrong.

“We just received the letter, but we’ve had it long enough to know we disagree with their interpretation of the law. Not only do we believe it’s crucial to have ineligible voters removed from the voter rolls, we’re obligated by law to do it,” Cate said in an e-mail. Detzner’s office will be sending a formal response to the coalition, Cate said, noting that the presidential primary was in January, not in August as the groups said in their letter.

Deutch also drafted a letter to Scott asking him to stop flushing the voter rolls.

“Given that this process fails to meet basic standards of accountability, and that the legal authority for automatic removal of registered voters is currently being challenged in both state and federal court, it is irresponsible to proceed so quickly and with so little room for oversight. If the goal is truly to remove ineligible individuals who were intentionally or somehow mistakenly registered to vote, then that process must move forward in a nonpartisan manner with transparency, uniformity, and great care,” Deutch’s draft letter reads. “Governor Scott, Florida has never encountered problems with mass voter fraud. Unfortunately however, our state does have a troubled history of wrongfully purging from our rolls the names of legitimate voters mistakenly deemed ineligible to vote. In both 2000 and 2004, the state pursued misguided efforts to purge the voter rolls that were shown to wrongfully include legal voters in these lists. Only when the lists and the process were made transparent could all Florida voters trust that no one would be wrongfully denied their right to vote.”

Black Dems trying to change Sunday pre-election voting restriction

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sen. Chris Smith will try to change Florida’s election law to re-open early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, one of the controversial provisions included in the state’s disputed election law passed last year.

Smith and other black lawmakers interrupts a “souls to the polls” movement instituted a decade ago when Florida began early voting. As many of 30 percent of black voters in some communities cast their ballots after attending church on Sunday, Smith, R-Fort Lauderdale, said.

“Last year’s law forbid us from doing that,” Smith told reporters, including a CNN crew, Friday morning. He said he plans to introduce an amendment that would allow but not require elections supervisors to hold the Sunday voting again on the floor this morning but has not heard from Senate GOP leaders whether they will sign off on the change to the elections bill (SB 1596).

The sweeping election reform passed last year – now being challenged in court – was aimed at reducing election fraud, Republican lawmakers insist.

But Smith said that does not explain the ban on Sunday voting.

“If fraud is going to happen, it is not suddenly going to happen on that Sunday,” he said.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a lawyer and civil rights activist, said she believes the law was intentionally designed to make it harder for blacks to vote in the general election this year to keep President Obama from being reelected after minority voters and college students helped sweep Obama into the White House four years ago. Florida is one of more than a dozen states that passed restrictive elections laws last year.

“It’s my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African Americans in this country because it’s playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional,” Joyner, D-Tampa, said.

A Tallahassee federal judge this week held a hearing in a lawsuit filed against the state by voting rights groups challenging the state’s new laws regarding third-party voter registration. The new law caused the League of Women Voters to stop registering voters for the first time in decades.

Al Sharpton rips Rep. Baxley over Florida election law

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Al Sharpton took state Rep. Dennis Baxley to task over Florida’s new election law on Sharpton’s Politics Nation show on MSNBC tonight.

The sharp-tongued Sharpton, a Democrat, lambasted Baxley, the former head of the state’s Christian Coalition, over changes to the election laws, similar to changes GOP-dominated legislatures approved in more than a dozen states this year. Critics, including Sharpton, say the new laws make it more difficult for minorities and college students – who helped President Obama move into the White House three years ago – to cast their votes. At the urging of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and some of fellow Democrats, a Congressional hearing in Florida on the election law is in the works.

Baxley and others contend the new laws are aimed at preventing voter fraud. But Sharpton challenged Baxley over the fraud issue, saying Florida had only 31 cases of election fraud since the 2008 election.

“You didn’t have laws after hanging chads and other means disrupted this country in 2000…Is it really because young people and minorities started voting and registering in big numbers and this is the new way that you’re going to try and restrict people’s voting rights?” an incensed Sharpton demanded.

“I don’t see why you have to impugn other people’s motives. You may not like some of the content…but I think it makes…people more secure,” a relaxed Baxley, R-Ocala, said. (Baxley later corrected Sharpton – Florida lawmakers enacted a slew of new voting laws in the aftermath of the protracted 2000 election.)

“If it wasn’t broke why are you fixing it other than this is some political game?” Sharpton persisted.

Baxley said the new laws will protect elections from “from mishap and mischief” and pointed out that “Mickey Mouse” had registered to vote in Florida.

That only provoked Sharpton.

“If you’ve got to get Mickey Mouse to make your case…then believe me you’re trying to take all of us to Disney World for a ride,” he said.

Watch the the two tangle over the League of Women Voters, which stopped registering voters in Florida because of the new law, before the clip ends. Sharpton interviewed Florida LOWV president Deidre MacNab before Baxley came on.

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The most controversial portions of Florida’s elections law are now under review by a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. The League and other groups are asking that the court reject the changes.

Federal court says no to Scott administration on elections law rush-job, blames Florida for delay

Friday, October 28th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A federal court has turned down Gov. Rick Scott’s request for expedited review of four of Florida’s most contentious election law changes, blaming Scott’s administration itself for delays.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning asked the three-judge panel to decide whether the four election law changes violate the federal Voting Rights Act and earlier this month asked the panel to also rule on whether the act is unconstitutional and speed up its review. Browning said a decision is needed before the Florida’s early Jan. 31 presidential preference primary or the state could be in trouble for not having the same set of elections laws in all 67 counties. Five counties – Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – require federal preclearance of voting rights laws. The rest of the counties have already implemented the changes, but the five counties cannot until federal officials or a federal court approves.

In a 12-page memo issued today, the judges chastised Florida for dragging out the process by side-stepping Department of Justice review. The court said Browning waited three weeks after Scott signed the law before sending it to the Justice Department for approval, removed four provisions of the law from the department’s review after 50 days and later asked the court to expedite its review.

“Thus, the present state of affairs is, at least to an extent, a matter of Florida’s own choosing,” judges wrote. “The Court is neither willing to rush to judgment on the complex statutory and constitutional issues raised in this case nor inclined to impose unreasonable litigation burdens upon the United States and Defendant-Intervenors simply because Florida chose to schedule its primary election early in the election season.”

Browning’s proposed schedule would have given the parties only 28 days to prepare for arguments and allowed the court just two to three weeks to hold hearings and draft an opinion, the judges wrote.

“The Court finds this extraordinarily abbreviated schedule to be unworkable,” they wrote.
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Browning asks court to scrap federal oversight of Florida election laws

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning today asked a court to do away with federal approval of changes to the state’s elections laws in five counties under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, alleging that the that part of the Act is unconstitutional.

Browning also asked a three-judge federal court panel in Washington to expedite its review of four election law changes approved by lawmakers this spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Browning went to the court in July for approval after initially submitting the new laws to the U.S. Department of Justice for “preclearance,” required for under federal law for five counties – Hendry, Collier, Hardee, Hillsborough and Monroe – with a history of racial 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.

Under changes to the Voting Rights Act approved by Congress in 1972, the preclearance is required for jurisdictions in which at the time less than 50 percent of the voting-age citizens were registered to vote or voted in the presidential election, had a non-English-speaking population of more than five percent, and provided voting materials only in English.

“I am hopeful the federal court will come to a quick resolution and approve the remaining provisions of our preclearance submission as nondiscriminatory,” Browning said in a statement. “However, I am frustrated that the reason we are still waiting to implement Florida law in five counties is because of an arbitrary and irrational coverage formula based on data from 40 years ago that takes no account of current conditions.”

All changes to the state’s new elections laws must be approved by the Justice Department or by a federal court, a rare move according to elections experts.

Browning asked the court to rule on the new elections laws before the end of the year. If not, that could pose problems for Floridians voting in the GOP primary now slated for Jan. 31 because the five counties would not be operating under the same laws as the rest of the state. State law requires that voting laws be uniform statewide.

Instead of getting federal approval for the four most controversial portions of the state’s new elections laws, Browning went to court, making U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder a defendant in the case.

Florida is one of more than a dozen states that passed elections laws this spring that critics object are aimed at keeping low-income, minority and college-student voters – who typically vote for Democrats and helped President Obama win the 2008 presidential election – away from the polls.

The ACLU and others are challenging the new elections laws in federal court in Miami.

Florida and other GOP-dominated states’ new elections rules could shut out 5 million voters next year

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida and more than a dozen other states’ new elections laws intended to clamp down on voting fraud could keep 5 million Americans from voting in next year’s presidential election, a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice found.

As in Florida, the laws require voters to show photo identification before casting ballots, cut back on early voting days or impose restrictions on voter registration drives. Florida’s new election law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in May and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott includes all of those elements and more.

The ACLU and other groups filed a federal lawsuit in June against Scott’s administration over the elections laws changes. The groups and the Brennan Center also asked the Justice Department to reject the most controversial provisions of the law. Late in July, Secretary of State Kurt Browning sidestepped the DOJ and instead asked a federal three-judge panel to sign off on those four portions being challenged in the lawsuit. Federal approval is required for five Florida counties under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Brennan Center analysis found that the new laws, including Florida’s, could have a significant impact on next year’s presidential election because the changes will primarily impact minority and low-income voters who tend to vote for Democrats. Florida’s law could also make it more difficult for college and university students – who played a key role in President Obama’s 2008 victory – to vote.

“This is the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades. More voters may be affected than the margin of victory in two out of the past three presidential elections,” Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice, said in a statement released with the new study. “In 2012 we should make it easier for every eligible citizen to vote. Instead, we have made it far harder for too many. Partisans should not try to tilt the electoral playing field in this way.”

Feds sign off on bulk of Florida election overhaul but controversial parts still in limbo

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Federal officials have signed off on the bulk of Florida’s elections overhaul but the most controversial portions remain in limbo.

The U.S. Department of Justice approved 76 measures included in the new law passed by the GOP-dominated legislature this spring and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

But last month, Secretary of State Kurt Browning sidestepped President Obama’s administration and instead asked a federal court to approve the most controversial components of the new law.

“I am appreciative of the work the DOJ has done to approve Florida’s new election laws,” Browning said in statement today. “Their decision confirms what we already know, that Florida’s new election laws are fair and not discriminatory. I expect the federal district court will also agree that the new laws are fair when it reviews the remaining provisions.”

Five counties in Florida – Collier, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – require federal “preclearance” before new election laws can go into effect to make sure the changes do are not discriminatory.

The ACLU and other groups are currently challenging the new law in federal court in Miami, saying it is designed to make registering to vote and casting ballots more difficult for minorities and low-income voters who typically vote Democratic. Scott, who re-appointed Browning, asked the judge in that case to remove him from the lawsuit. Jesse Jackson held rallies in Florida late last month protesting the new law.

The portions of the new law still awaiting approval from the federal three judge panel deal with third party voter registrations, changes of address, early voting hours and petition signature verification. Browning said he expects a court ruling before next year’s presidential primary.

Read more about the four provisions still hanging after the jump.
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Browning sidesteps Obama admin, goes to federal court for approval of Florida election law

Friday, July 29th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Secretary of State Kurt Browning has asked a federal court to approve Florida’s new election law, sidestepping the U.S. Justice Department on the most controversial portions of the voting overhaul approved by the GOP-dominated legislature in May and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

Critics of the new law say it is designed to make registering to vote and casting ballots more difficult for minorities and low-income voters, who typically vote Democratic. The ACLU and other groups are currently challenging the new law in federal court in Miami. Scott, who re-appointed Browning, last week asked the judge in that case to remove him from the lawsuit. Jesse Jackson held rallies in Florida this week protesting the new law.

On Friday, Browning withdrew four portions of the law – including those currently being challenged in federal court – from the preclearance application. Federal approval is required for five Florida counties under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In a press release, Browning hinted that the state wouldn’t get a fair evaluation from the Democratic president’s administration.

“The purpose of filing in the federal district court is to ensure that the changes to Florida’s election law are judged on their merits by eliminating the risk of a ruling impacted by outside influence,” Browning said in the release. “Since the passage of HB 1355, we have seen misinformation surrounding the bill increase. By asking a court to rule on certain aspects of the bill, we are assured of a neutral evaluation based on the facts.”

Browning had the option of submitting the new law to the Justice Department, the usual method of getting new election laws approved, or a three-judge panel. He originally asked for federal preclearance from Justice officials in June.
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Jesse Jackson joins rallies against new FL election law

Monday, July 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson will lead a series of rallies tonight and tomorrow in Florida challenging the state’s new election law.

The ACLU and others have filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration over the elections overhaul, one of at least seven lawsuits prompted by the first-term governor’s actions and laws passed by the GOP-dominated legislature this session.

Jackson will participate in a rally in Orlando this evening, a workshop in Eatonville tomorrow morning and a rally and meeting in Tampa tomorrow night.

Critics of the new law, including the League of Women Voters, say it is designed to make registering to vote and casting ballots more difficult for minorities and low-income voters, who typically vote Democratic.

The law imposes strict regulation of third-party registration groups, including requiring that they turn in registration forms within 48 hours after they are signed. Minority and low-income voters are more likely to register through the third-party groups, said Washington-based Project Vote lawyer Estelle Rogers.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to block the new law from going into effect until federal officials sign off on it, a requirement because five counties in Florida require “preclearance” from the Justice Department before changes to elections can go into effect.

Scott last week asked to be removed from the lawsuit.

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