Howard Simon, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, has written a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., urging him to hold Senate hearings on the state’s controversial new voting law as soon as possible.

Durbin recently granted Sen. Bill Nelson’s request for field hearings into Florida’s controversial new voting law that many say could disenfranchise minorities, young voters and low-income citizens, among others.

The ACLU of Florida has been one of the interveners in Florida’s effort to push forward the implementation of the contreversial new rules.

Florida’s new law imposes new regulations on third party voter registration drives, creates a shorter “shelf life” for signatures collected for ballot initiatives and adds new restrictions on voters changing their registered addresses on election day. The new law would also eliminate some early voting days, including the Sunday before election day. Opponents of the law have said the restrictions would remove voting rights from people all over the state.

Simon says in his letter to Durbin: “I am writing today not just to thank you for your efforts but to strongly encourage you to hold these hearings at the soonest possible opportunity and in some of the Florida communities most affected by the new voting restrictions so you and the other Senators can hear firsthand from those who will suffer most.”

Simon writes:

Governor Scott and Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning’s rush to implement the new, regressive election changes has created two sets of voting laws in Florida – setting the stage for voter confusion, mass disenfranchisement and yet another national embarrassment for Florida. With a statewide election scheduled in Florida on January 31, 2012 there is little time for Senate hearings to investigate these votersuppression laws  and to urge changes before their impact will be realized. Accordingly, I ask that you please consider scheduling these hearings as soon as your schedules will allow – and if possible before the January 31, 2011 state elections.

I also ask that you hold at least three hearings on this mass voter suppression law in Florida – allowing the most impacted citizens and communities to share their concerns directly. Specifically, I recommend hearings in Tallahassee, St. Petersburg and Ft. Lauderdale. Hearings in these communities will allow the Committee to hear needed information directly from the young voters, racial and language minorities as well as low income voters this new law targets.

As you are aware, the ACLU strongly and repeatedly objected to these efforts to suppress the vote and infringe on basic voting rights when they were considered by the Legislature last year. We have also initiated and supported every opportunity to challenge these punitive changes both at the Department of Justice and in the Courts.

We have publicly rejected the baseless justification for this legislation – namely preventing some unspecified and nonexistent “potential fraud.” Your Committee may wish to invite county Supervisors of Elections to testify at these hearings so you can hear directly about the existence or non-existence of voter fraud that could be addressed by the new changes in question.

Rather than address voter fraud, these new, unnecessary laws are designed to manipulate the outcome of elections by making it harder for some groups to vote.  It’s a scheme we’ve seen before. The naked political motives help explain why Gov. Scott’s administration has repeatedly delayed and engaged in other distracting legal and political tactics to keep the real impact of these voting changes hidden from public and legal review. Their goal of using election laws and voting rights to manipulate elections by suppressing the vote is so strong that Gov. Scott now is using the ongoing legal battle over these new provisions to challenge the constitutionality of the landmark Voting Rights Act (specifically, Section 5) which has protected racial and language minorities against this very type of attack on their right to vote for more than four decades.

Florida is currently waiting for a ruling on controversial aspects of the law from a court in the District of Columbia. The state has also been one of the most closely watched states instituting stricter voting laws right before the 2012 election.

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