Court decision on Florida voting law unlikely before August primary

Apr 2, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Independent on April 2, 2012:

Court Decision on Florida Voting Law Unlikely Before August Primary

By Ashley Lopez

The court panel currently reviewing Florida’s contentious new voting law says a decision will likely not come before the state holds its primary elections in August.

The Washington, D.C., court is currently reviewing Florida’s controversial law, which among many provisions places prohibitive rules and restrictions on third-party voter registration groups, creates a shortened “shelf life” for signatures collected for ballot initiatives, places new restrictions on voters changing their registered addresses on election day, and reduces the number of early voting days.

Per the Voting Rights Act of 1965, five counties in Florida require federal preclearance whenever the state passes a new voting law that could affect the voting rights of minorities. Typically the Department of Justice is tasked with reviewing the law, but Florida officials instead asked a D.C. court to preclear new rules.

So far, there has been significant pushback from voting rights and civil rights advocates in the state and all over the country. Critics of the Florida law claim it is an effort to surpress voting rights in the state for the upcoming presidential election. Many groups have even filed lawsuits against the state hoping its implementation (which is already taking place in 62 of the state’s 67 counties) is halted.

Last week, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the federal court reviewing the law will most likely not be ruling on it before the state holds its primary, thus increasing the likelihood that the state will hold an election with two different sets of voting laws.

The Orlando Sentinel reported:

According to court documents filed this week, a three-judge panel believes it is “unlikely” the case would be settled before Florida’s Aug. 14 primary. Which means five Florida counties — which must get federal approval before changing voting laws — would operate under old election rules while the other 62 counties would incorporate the three new rules.

Florida had to hold its Jan. 31 “presidential preference primary” because it hadn’t gotten a federal ruling. Now is indicating a similar situation this summer, despite earlier aims to wrap up the proceedings by Aug. 14.

Here’s what the court said: “… [D]espite early indications to the contrary, Florida no longer states that it needs a ruling on its judicial preclearance claims before the primary election scheduled for August 14, 2012. Florida accepts that the schedule set out below, which was extended at Florida’s request, is unlikely to result in a ruling before that date.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has already filed documents with the D.C. court expressing its concern with and disapproval of some of the more controversial provisions in Florida’s elections law.

Research by a voting expert in the state has shown that the law has already negatively affected early voting turnout and voter registration in the short time it has been implemented in 62 Florida counties.

Experts have warned that Florida’s law is just one of a slew of efforts in other states that could curb voter turnout and greatly affect the outcome of the upcoming presidential election.

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