WASHINGTON — Testifying in a congressional hearing Thursday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson sharply condemned Florida's new election law as a ploy to suppress participation of Democratic voters.
Invoking the 2000 presidential election debacle, the Democrat said: "It was a painful experience and because of that, the state Legislature set about on a series of reforms. They made it easier to vote, they made it easier to register to vote. And they made it easier that someone would have the confidence that their vote was going to be counted as they intended. That has suddenly been reversed in the state of Florida."
The new law, pushed by the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature and signed in May by Gov. Rick Scott, reduces early voting from 14 days to eight; eliminates early voting on the Sunday before the election; and imposes new registration requirements and shorter filing deadlines on third-party groups that register voters.
It also requires voters who move from one county to another to file a provisional ballot if they wait to update their voting address until Election Day.
Advocates say the changes will cut down on voter fraud.
But detractors say the problem never existed. The law is the focus of a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Nelson said it was suspicious that the Sunday voting was cut, noting that a "certain number of voters" go to the polls after church. That is a time when African-Americans, who often vote Democrat, have gone to the polls.
Nelson is up for re-election in 2012.
Nelson's testimony came before the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which is looking at election laws in several states, including Wisconsin, Texas, Indiana, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.
The meeting was chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who suggested the effort among states was "coordinated and well-financed."
He said he had sent a letter to Scott and the governors of Wisconsin and Tennessee "asking them to inform the subcommittee of their plans for ensuring the laws they have enacted will not disenfranchise the citizens of their state."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., praised lawmakers in his state for making changes requiring voters to show a valid driver's license or state ID before voting.
"When you get on an airplane, you have to have some form of ID," he said. "When it comes to voting, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say you have to prove that you are who you say you are."
U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, a Republican who had previously served as Indiana's secretary of state, countered that the changes in his state have not caused any problems. "We want to instill confidence in the process, to drive up turnout," he said.