Nelson, Durbin applaud Justice Department’s push for trial in Florida voting law challenge

By | 03.06.12 | 12:40 pm

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. (left) and Bill Nelson, D-Fla. (Pic by Cooper Levey-Baker)

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., released statements yesterday applauding the U.S. Department of Justice for filing papers in court last week challenging Florida’s controversial new voting law.

Late last Friday, the DOJ announced it was seeking a trial into Florida’s controversial elections law overhaul. The law was passed last year by the state Legislature and has drawn harsh criticism from civil rights and advocacy groups and led to multiple legal challenges. Groups have argued that the law is a concerted “voter suppression” effort, aimed at hindering access to the polls for minorities, students and low-income voters during the 2012 election.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the DOJ “took the position that Florida has not met its burden of proof on two of the most visible and repressive portions of the new law: 1) The reduction in the number of allowed days of early voting including a ban on early voting on the Sunday before Election Day and 2) New registration policies, fines and other requirements on groups and individuals conducting voter registration activities.”

The DOJ also raised concerns over provisions in Florida’s law that would shorten the shelf life of signatures collected for ballot initiatives and complicate the process by which voters may change their registered addresses.

Nelson and Durbin have been among the federal policymakers to voice their concerns regarding Florida’s new law.

Last October, Nelson sent a letter to Durbin requested a hearing into whether Florida’s new restrictions were part of “an orchestrated effort to disenfranchise voters.” He also later asked Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Florida’s new law.

Durbin immediately heeded Nelson’s request. This past January, Nelson and Durbin held a congressional field hearing in Tampa into the effects of the law in the state. Now, Holder’s agency (the DOJ) has begun to publicly raise red flags about Florida’s law.

“There’s really not much question at this point that the law’s a thinly veiled attempt by extremists to make it harder for some people to vote, especially seniors, young voters and minorities,” Nelson said  in a statement yesterday. “The Justice Department’s right to bring this challenge.”

Durbin echoes Nelson’s statement, saying “the Justice Department has made the right decision in challenging Florida’s new voting law.”

“Florida law’s onerous new restrictions are unfair, unwise and will have a disproportionate impact on minority, young, low income and other voters in Florida. I support the challenge and hope the law is overturned,” Durbin continued.

At the same time a D.C. court is reviewing the more  controversial aspects of the law, a court in Tallahassee is also currently considering a challenge to the law by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote, Florida PIRG, and others. The groups filed a lawsuit this past December charging that the law “unconstitutionally and unlawfully burdens their efforts, and the efforts of other individuals and community-based groups, to encourage civic engagement and democratic participation by assisting Florida citizens in registering to vote and exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

Research has already shown that Florida’s law has negatively affected early voting turnout and voter registration in the short time that it has been implemented in 62 counties in the state.

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