March 3, 2012

Yesterday, Friday, March 2nd, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the other parties filed a Joint Status Report in the federal district court in the District of Columbia which is evaluating provisions of Florida’s Voter Suppression Act to see if they comply with the federal Voting Rights Act – a process known as preclearance.

In the status report, 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.

Also in the report, the DOJ took the position that Florida had satisfied its burden of proof regarding the provision which reduced the viability of signatures on initiative petitions from four years to two years. DOJ is still evaluating the final provision of the Voter Suppression Act under review by the court – the requirement that voters who move between counties and wish to change their address at the polls must vote by provisional ballot.

Because five Florida counties are covered by the Voting Rights Act, changes to Florida’s voting laws must be reviewed by the federal government to ensure they do not negatively impact the voting rights of racial and language minorities in those counties.

Typically, the required review is done by DOJ. Initially, Governor Scott and former Secretary of State Browning submitted the 2011 voting changes (Voter Suppression Act – formerly HB1355) to the DOJ for review. But days before a decision was expected, the Governor reversed course, withdrew four provisions of the law from consideration by DOJ and initiated a legal proceeding in the federal district court in Washington (Florida v. the United States).

The final determination as to whether all four remaining provisions of Voter Suppression Act comply with the Voting Rights Act is still up to the DC Court, not the Department of Justice.

The ACLU of Florida lobbied strongly against the Voter Suppression Act when it was under consideration by the 2011 Legislature, rallied opposition to the suppression provisions when they were under review by DOJ, intervened in the DC litigation on behalf of several voters, voting organizations, the Florida AFL-CIO and two county Supervisors of Elections.

Below is statement from Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida on the report filed yesterday:

“No one, including Governor Scott, should be surprised that the Department of Justice has determined that key provisions of the Voter Suppression Act of 2011 can make it harder to register to vote and harder to vote. The ACLU and others have said that to the Legislature, to the Secretary of State, to the U.S. Senate, to the Justice Department and to three different federal courts.

“Preventing state officials from implementing laws that violate the fundamental rights of its citizens is precisely the historic responsibility of the federal government and the federal courts – it’s why we have a federal Voting Rights Act. We hope the federal court in Washington will agree that these parts of the law will roll back voting rights in Florida.

“Our Governor is so intent on suppressing the right to vote that he’s even taken the extreme step of launching a challenge to the Voting Rights Act itself because that landmark of the Civil Rights Movement stands in the way of implementing his voter suppression agenda.”

2012 Press Releases