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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Groups urge feds to block voter registration and early voting changes



A group of voting rights advocates is hoping to use the federal Voting Rights Act as the hammer to kill legislation passed this year that limits early voting and imposes new restrictions on voter registration. Among the changes is a rule that requires that early voting end three days before the election -- making it impossible for churches to focus on early voting as they did in 2008 when thousands of black voters flocked to the polls. 


In a 25-page letter to the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Brennan Center for Justice, Democracia USA, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law urged the department to exercise its authority under the Voting Rights Act to the law, HB 1355, because, they say, it will make it harder for Floridians to vote.

The groups argue that the law imposes new barriers to voting, particularly on minority voters, in violation of the federal act. Their objections:

1)      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;

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

3)      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.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Florida must seek approval from the Justice Department or a panel of federal judges before implementing any changes to state election laws that affect the five counties in the state covered by Section 5 (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe). 

The legislation mirrored similar laws introduced by Republicans in about 25 others states. Florida Republicans said it was needed to prevent voter fraud.

“This law makes it difficult, maybe even impossible, for the League of Women Voters to bring new Floridians into the democratic process,'' said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida in a statement. "Now, after 72 years, this law may mean that the League of Women Voters will stop registering voters in Florida.”  

“The new law cuts to the core of what Democracia USA and other organizations do to engage Hispanics in the electoral process,” said Eric Rodriguez, Vice President with the Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation at Democracia USA’s parent organization, the National Council of La Raza.  He added that, “rather than curbing fraud, the new restrictions will limit voter participation by creating unnecessary burdens on groups that are involved in registering new voters in Florida.”

Secretary of State Kurt Browning has said he wants the law implemented law before getting pre-clearance for the change, except in the five Section 5 counties.  Meanwhile, in June the American Civil Liberties Union and Project Vote filed suit in federal court in Miami arguing that the election laws must first be approved by the Justice Department before they are enforced anywhere in Florida.  

[Last modified: Friday, July 15, 2011 5:10pm]


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