Florida Challenges Voting Rights Act Provision

Secretary of State Kurt Browning says requiring DOJ approval of new voting laws is unconstitutional.

Posted: 10/12/2011 04:40 PM EDT
Kurt Browning

Florida is one of several Southern states with a history of racial discrimination that must seek preclearance from the Justice Department before making changes to its voting laws. But according to Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the requirement, which in Florida is applicable to only five counties, is outdated and unconstitutional and he is taking his argument to court.

 

"The historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act are unquestionable. I strongly support the many provisions of the Voting Rights Act that appropriately enforce the right of citizens to register and vote free from discrimination,” Browning said in a statement. “But there is no constitutional basis to arbitrarily single out five Florida counties and a few other covered jurisdictions, based solely on information from decades ago, and subject them to procedures that don’t apply to the rest of the country."

 

Florida is currently awaiting preclearance from DOJ for changes to its voting laws that include reducing the two-week early voting period to eight days and place restrictions on third-party voter registration groups that they say would make it difficult or impossible to register new voters. Proponents of the changes say that they would disparately affect minorities, the elderly and college students.

 

“The governor’s taxpayer-funded legal shenanigans continue — now seeking to set aside landmark federal civil rights legislation that protects racial and language minorities in Florida,” said Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida. “The Voting Rights Act was designed and passed expressly to prevent states from undermining voting rights of minorities — which is exactly what Florida is doing. Scott and Browning have made it clear that they prefer to fight to suppress the vote than follow landmark civil rights laws. At least now, it’s official.”

 

According to a report in The Miami Herald, a similar claim brought by Shelby County, Alabama, which must also get preclearance, was rejected by a U.S. district court in Washington.

 

We have put in the worst kind of regression laws I have seen. We cannot forget the history of Florida. People just understand the [hanging chads] but there were a whole lot of undercurrents and things that they put in place [to suppress votes] and they’re trying to do it again,” said Florida Rep. Corrine Brown. “We need the Justice Department to step up and so far it has not.”

 

(Photo: Florida State Government)

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