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Two groups sue Gov. Scott over new Florida elections law

TALLAHASSEE — A pair of liberal-leaning groups sued Gov. Rick Scott on Friday to block an elections law that they say amounts to "voter suppression."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Project Vote filed the suit in the hopes that it would stop Miami-Dade County from shortening the number of early-voting days before its June 28 mayoral elections.

The new law shortens the early voting days — but not necessarily the number of total hours — from 14 to eight days. It also requires an out-of-county voter who tries to change his voting precinct on Election Day to cast a provisional ballot, which can be more easily challenged. Also, the law cracks down on third-party registration groups.

One of the plaintiffs, Tampa Sen. Arthenia Joyner, said the bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature is an example of a "rank partisan agenda" that disproportionately hurts minorities.

"It is un-American to make it a burden to vote. Too many people fought and died for this right," said Joyner, a Democrat. "This is an abomination. And it's unconscionable."

But the sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Dennis Baxley, a Republican from Ocala, said the state needs to ensure there's no fraud.

The lawsuit is the fifth one to name Scott as a defendant in his role as governor. The other suits relate to drug-testing state workers, high-speed rail, constitutional amendments over redistricting and an executive order that froze state rules.

The suit names Scott's secretary of state, Kurt Browning, who has defended the need for the law — despite praising Florida's election system in 2008 and 2010.

The suit doesn't specifically target the substance of the law, but instead revolves around a technicality in the state's elections map.

Five counties have a special designation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires Justice Department approval for voting changes. As a result, the supervisors in those counties — Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier, Glades and Hendry — told the state they couldn't and wouldn't implement the law until they received a sign-off, known as "preclearance." The supervisors and other elections experts say they never remember the state rushing ahead to implement a law without a sign-off.

Browning told the five counties last week that they didn't have to follow requirements of the new law.

But Howard Simon, executive director of Florida's ACLU, said the state can't enforce the law in some places and not others. So the ACLU sued. He said he believed the law more broadly violates the Voting Rights Act but that's a "battle we will get into down the road."

Simon said Miami-Dade's upcoming election was more of a pressing concern at the moment.

"Under which rules will this election take place? Will people who relocate have to cast a provisional ballot?" he asked. "The election should not take place under rules that have not been sanctioned."

Two groups sue Gov. Scott over new Florida elections law 06/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 9:52pm]
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