Nelson wants congressional hearing on state’s new voting rules

By | 11.02.11 | 12:50 pm

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. (Pic by jonworth, via Flickr)

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., reiterated his request for a congressional investigation into Florida’s controversial new voting laws on the Senate floor today.

In a letter sent to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Nelson asked him to consider “conducting investigative field hearings” to see if the new voting laws were “an orchestrated effort to disenfranchise voters” in a manner that is possibly illegal.

In the letter, Nelson spoke of a recent case involving New Smyrna Beach High School civics teacher Jill Cicciarelli.

In a press release, Nelson wrote that “when [Cicciarelli] organized a drive at the start of this school year to get her students pre-registered to vote, she ran afoul of Florida’s new law. Cicciarelli hadn’t registered with the state before beginning the drive and didn’t submit the students’ registration forms to the elections office within 48 hours. Under the law, voter registration activities such as hers could result in hefty fines.”

Nelson also mentioned the involvement of a conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (known as ALEC) in the prevalence of these voting laws around the country.

“Many of the newly enacted voting laws came concomitant with model legislation to toughen voting requirements crafted by a conservative advocacy group called ALEC,” he wrote. “ALEC is backed by wealthy conservative activists and major corporate special interests. It’s founder, Paul Weyrich, once was quoted as saying, ‘I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.’”

Opponents of Florida’s law have said the laws are aimed at surpressing the vote of minorities and young people for the upcoming 2012 election. Cicciarelli’s case could be an example of how the youth vote might be particularly affected by the laws.

“No state should have the right to make a law if it abridges people’s basic rights,” Nelson said in his speech before the Senate.

Florida is currently waiting for a ruling on controversial aspects of the law from a court in the District of Columbia.

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