Browning withdraws portions of controversial elections law from federal ‘preclearance’
The Florida Department of State has withdrawn four of the most controversial provisions of House Bill 1355 — an elections overhaul passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott — from review by the U.S. Justice Department.
Instead, a federal court will decide whether the four provisions — which add new restrictions on third-party voter registration drives, shorten the “shelf life” of signatures collected for ballot initiatives, make it more difficult for voters to change their registered addresses on election day and reduce the number of early voting days — hinder minorities’ access to the polls, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Under the federal Voting Rights Act, changes to election laws in five Florida counties with a history of racial discrimination must be approved approved by the federal government. Secretary of State Kurt Browning had originally submitted the changes to the Justice Department for “preclearance,” but according to the Post, he issued a statement Friday saying he wanted to shift the approval process to a venue that would be less subject to political influence, in part because ”we have seen misinformation surrounding the bill increase” since the changes were submitted in June.
Democratic state lawmakers, as well as groups like the League of Women Voters of Florida and the NAACP, have called on the Obama administration to reject the changes, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson led protests against the measure last week in Central Florida. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to block implementation of the changes until they are approved, which will likely take longer now. Scott and Browning are fighting to have that case dismissed.
In a statement, League president Deirdre Macnab said Friday:
Today’s decision suggests that the state lacks confidence in the legality of these controversial provisions. If Governor Scott and Secretary Browning believe that the bill complies with the VRA, why not allow DOJ to review the entire bill? It’s not a coincidence that the very sections the League feels will suppress voter participation are the ones which the state withdrew from DOJ consideration. Although we feel confident that the law will eventually be overturned, today’s development will undoubtedly result in unnecessary delay for voters, at great cost to Florida taxpayers.