Florida secretary of state challenges Voting Rights Act

By | 10.11.11 | 4:37 pm

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning (Pic via dos.state.fl.us)

In an effort to push forward the Legislature’s controversial elections overhaul, the state of Florida has filed a complaint challenging sections of the Voting Rights Act.

The complaint — which was filed today by Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning — argues that federal preclearance requirements for state election laws are “unconstitutional.”

The Voting Rights Act, which became law in 1965, was written to outlaw discriminatory voting rules. Section 5 of the act requires the federal government to review and approve any changes to election laws in certain areas. Five Florida counties currently fall under that jurisdiction.

Working to implement the Legislature’s elections overhaul, Browning’s office has asked a federal judge to approve four of the law’s most controversial measures: new restrictions on third-party voter registration drives, a shortened “shelf life” for signatures collected for ballot initiatives, new restrictions on voters changing their registered addresses on election day, and a reduction in the number of early voting days. In the 62 Florida counties not covered by Section 5, Browning’s office has already implemented the new elections rules.

With today’s filing, the state is now challenging the very law that stands in the way of implementing the new election rules in every county.

According to Browning’s complaint (.pdf), “subjecting Florida counties and other jurisdictions covered exclusively under the language minority provisions of the [Voting Rights Act] to pre-clearance is not a rational, congruent, or proportional means of enforcing the Fourteenth and/or Fifteenth Amendments and violates the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the U.S. Constitution.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, among others, is challenging the new elections laws in federal court in Miami. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, says in a statement today that 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.”

“Today they’ve essentially asked a court to allow them not to follow federal law,” he says. “It’s an admission that they know that the federal courts are likely to find that the Voter Suppression Act passed this year is a serious threat to the voting rights of Florida’s language and racial minorities.”

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