The Miami Herald reported over the weekend that supervisors of elections in the five Florida counties covered by the Voting Rights Act have refused to recognize the sweeping changes to state election laws recently signed by Gov. Rick Scott until the changes are cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Changes to election laws in certain jurisdictions — including Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties — must be pre-approved by the Justice Department to ensure they don’t discriminate against minorities, which would violate the Voting Rights Act.
After Scott signed House Bill 1355, Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning told reporters that while most of the its provisions take effect immediately, “it’s not effective in those five counties,” and that he is “confident” the new law will be approved in the next few months.
The bill’s House sponsor, Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, said the only thing “prejudicial and discriminatory” was about the issue was the description of minority voters as being different from Caucasians and Anglos.
Baxley said the law allows for the same number of early voting hours — 96 — that existed before. He said third-party registration groups should face fines for holding on to registration cards for more than two days.
“This is not targeted toward any racial, ethnic, or gender population,” he said. “I heard all this stuff about Jim Crow laws and lynchings — how inappropriate.”
It may not matter whether the law is intended to target any particular group if it is found to have a “discriminatory effect.”
An editorial in today’s St. Petersburg Times argues that some of the most contentious provisions in the bill will likely disadvantage minority voters, because they are more likely to rely on early voting (which would be open for fewer days under the new law), move between counties (which would require them to vote by provisional ballot if they don’t update their registrations) and register with the help of third-party groups (which would face tighter regulations).