The Miami Herald and the Orlando Sentinel are both reporting that Gov. Rick Scott instructed the Department of State to ask the federal government to halt its approval of Amendments 5 and 6, the two popular so-called “Fair Districts” amendments that limit the legislature’s ability to gerrymander districts.
Now, via press release, Fair Districts Now — a nonprofit dedicated to overseeing the implementation of 5 and 6 — says that by doing so, Scott and other officials have been caught abusing their power:
Within its first days in power, the new administration of Governor Rick Scott, through its Department of State, took extraordinary steps to thwart the will of the overwhelming majority of Florida voters who voted for redistricting reform in Florida.
On, November 2, 63% of Florida voters amended the Florida Constitution to include new non-partisan redistricting standards. When new laws affect voting as these do, the Voting Rights Act requires that the standards be reviewed and “pre-cleared” by the Justice Department (DOJ). It is the duty of the state to request DOJ pre-clearance. Governor Crist ordered that a formal request for pre-clearance be filed. The Florida Secretary of State’s office filed that request on December 10, 2010.
On January 7, 2011, as one of its first acts, the new administration of Governor Rick Scott, through its Department of State, in an apparent attempt to thwart the will of the voters, wrote to DOJ withdrawing the amendments from review. [Emphasis in original.]
One unanswered question remains: What role did Secretary of State Kurt Browning play in the department’s action?
The letter sent by the Department of State (which you can read in full below) was dated Jan. 7 and sent on letterhead bearing the name of Jennifer Kennedy, then-acting secretary of state. But Scott had announced his appointment of Browning to the secretary post two days prior, and the Herald piece specifically names Browning as one of the officials behind the decision to withdraw from the amendment approval process.
Browning’s role is relevant because of his position as the president of Protect Your Vote, a political action committee dedicated to defeating Amendments 5 and 6 that was largely bankrolled by the Republican Party of Florida.
Department of State communications director Trey Stapleton emailed me to clarify that Browning had “no involvement” with the decision to withdraw the amendments from review.
The Department of State’s letter: