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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

House Democrats ask Justice Department to deny changes to election law



House Democrats are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to deny controversial changes to the state's elections law.

Leader Ron Saunders and Democratic Speaker-designate Perry Thurston wrote a letter Tuesday requesting the department deny "preclearance" (meaning, sign-off) for implementation of the law in Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties.

Those counties have a special designation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that requires the Justice Department to approve changes to elections procedures. Supervisors in those counties had warned the state they could not implement the law until they received preclearance. Secretary of State Kurt Browning said they did not have to implement the law.

The elections overhaul (SB 1355) attracted a federal lawsuit from the ACLU of Florida and Project Vote, parties that argue the state cannot enforce the law in some places and not others.

Here are the biggest changes in the new law:

  • reduces early voting days from 14 to eight days.
  • requires out-of-county voters who wish to change their address at the polls to cast provisional ballots, which can be more easily challenged.
  • requires volunteers of third-party registration groups, such as the League of Women Voters, to register with the state and face fines of up to $1,000 for not submitting voting forms within 48 hours.

Saunders and Thurston argue these changes disadvantage minorities.

The letter is addressed to Chris Herren, who oversees the agency's voting section within the civil rights division. Read the Democrats' letter below.

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 3:51pm]


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