The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, along with State Senator Arthenia Joyner, and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) 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. Along with the ACLU of Florida, petitioners are represented by the Brennan Center for Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Currently, the State of Florida is operating an unlawful dual system of elections in violation of the state “Uniformity Statute.” Sixty-two Florida counties are enforcing restrictive 2011 changes to the Florida election code. However, the previous law still applies in the five counties that are “covered” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) while the state awaits a federal court decision on whether the 2011 changes violate Section 5.
“Gov. 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. “The Governor’s insistence that the state can push the Voting Rights Act aside and not wait for approval from either the Department of Justice or the federal courts, is the clearest indication yet of his agenda to trample on the voting rights of the people of Florida.”
In 2011, the Florida legislature passed a law, referred to by many as the “Voter Suppression Act,” which included changes that make it more difficult for individuals to register to vote, reduce the number of days of early voting, specifically ban early voting on the Sunday prior to Election Day, and increase the odds that Florida voters will be required to cast provisional ballots. In the 2008 Presidential Election less than half of provisional ballots cast in Florida were counted. As required by Section 5 of the VRA, Florida must submit any changes to elections laws to the federal government for “preclearance” to ensure that they do not violate the voting rights of minorities in the five covered counties. While many provisions of the 2011 law have received Section 5 preclearance, the restrictive portions have not.
Contrary to past practice and state law, and even though the restrictive portions of the 2011 law are not in effect in the five covered counties, Florida ordered elections officials to go forward with implementing the 2011 restrictive changes in the remaining 62 of the State’s 67 counties, while the five counties triggering the VRA review continue operating under the pre-2011 elections code. This has created a confusing and non-uniform election system across Florida.
“The petitioners are asking simply that Florida abide by state law which requires that the same voting rules apply throughout the State,” said Robert Kengle, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project. “The State is failing to apply the state Uniformity Statute in the same way it applied it in the past.”
This administrative challenge is one of several ongoing legal challenges to recent elections changes in Florida. Besides the ongoing preclearance review of the Voter Suppression Act now pending before a three judge federal panel in Washington DC, on May 31st of this year, a federal court in Tallahassee blocked enforcement of key provisions of the 2011 law’s restrictions on civic groups who conduct voter registration drives. In the last month, three different lawsuits, including one filed by the ACLU of Florida and the Lawyers’ Committee and one filed by the United States Justice Department, challenged the state’s “voter purge,” which disproportionately targets minorities and requires United States citizens to re-prove their citizenship or have their names purged from the voter rolls.
“Florida has repeatedly passed laws, and taken administrative actions, that make it harder for eligible citizens to vote,” said Diana Kasdan, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “These restrictions, and others across the country, represent the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades. Rather than erecting senseless barriers to voting, we should make our voting system work for all Americans by modernizing voter registration.”
The petition was filed on Friday, June 29th, with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings and will be heard and decided by an Administrative Law Judge to be assigned by the Division. The Washington D.C. office of the Bryan Cave Law firm and Mark Herron of Messer Caparello & Self of Tallahassee are also providing pro bono legal counsel in the case.
A copy of the petition with attached exhibits is available here: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/