By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
A state Senator, the ACLU of Florida and the National Council of La Raza filed a legal challenge against the state for having two sets of voting laws in the state.
According the to the ACLU, those challenging the state “filed an administrative petition against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner challenging his implementation of a dual election system involving restrictive changes in election procedures adopted by the Florida Legislature in 2011.”
Last year, the Florida Legislature passed legislation overhauling the state’s election rules. Because five counties in Florida fall under the Voting Rights Act and require federal pre-clearance, only 62 of the state’s 67 counties are operating under the new laws.
The ACLU of Florida says, “the State of Florida is operating an unlawful dual system of elections in violation of the state ‘Uniformity Statute.’ ”
In the past, state election officials would delay changes for the entire state until federal authorities had approved them.
But then-Secretary of State Kurt Browning directed 62 counties to go ahead and follow the new law.
Now the ACLU and others want an administrative judge to order state election officials to rescind the policy. Their legal challenge contends the Department of State is exceeding its authority and violates a state law that requires a uniform set of election rules.
“Gov. (Rick) Scott’s insistence that the state go forward with two different sets of voting laws and procedures in different counties not only violates Florida law requiring uniform elections throughout the state, it is a recipe for chaos and another embarrassment for our state,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida in a statement.
According to the News Service of Florida:
“These are not trivial changes of laws or practices that might be applied differently to allow for local idiosyncrasies; they bear directly on rights that are central to the electoral process,” the complaint says. “The establishment of this dual regulatory system by the Secretary is the antithesis of uniformity.” …
It also says the directions issued by the state are beyond the powers of Secretary of State Ken Detzner or his predecessor, Kurt Browning, who initially ordered the 62 counties to follow the law. And it cites the purported absurdity of requiring voters in one part of multi-county districts to vote under one set of rules while voters in other areas of those districts follow different procedures.
This is just one in a series of lawsuits filed against the state’s new voting law. This is also another attempt to stop the law’s implementation before the state begins its elections, a little over a month away.
Many voting rights advocates have said Florida’s law, among many things, makes it harder for students, the elderly, minorities and the disabled to register and vote.
Among the provisions in the law are a reduction in early voting days, a shortened “shelf life” for signatures collected for ballot initiatives, new restrictions on voters changing their registered addresses on election day and prohibitive restrictions on third-party voter registration groups.
A month ago, groups were able to halt the implementation of restrictions on voter registration groups, but the rest of the law still stands in most of the state.
Come election day, 62 counties will have one set of early voting days and five counties will have another.
Now groups are hoping this challenge might be able to stop the dual electoral system in the state, and in the process stop the new law statewide.
So far, groups have not been successful in getting the whole law stopped. Furthermore, the court in Washington, D.C., currently reviewing the law is not likely to offer a ruling until August, the same month as Florida’s primary.