The Florida ACLU and a Washington-based voting rights group filed a lawsuit Friday asking a federal court to halt statewide implementation of a new voting law until federal officials sign off.
The groups filed the lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott and his administration in federal court in Miami on behalf of two Democratic state lawmakers and nine voters in five counties that require U.S. Department of Justice approval of changes to elections laws. For federal approval, the state must prove the laws will not result in voter discrimination.
Because Florida and federal laws require that elections law be uniform throughout the state, the lawsuit asks a three-judge panel to block the law from going into effect in the other 62 counties despite Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning’s directive that elections supervisors immediately begin implementation.
“It’s clearly the case that state law answers the proposition that the standards must be uniform,” Laughlin McDonald, director of the national American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, said Friday. “The election division . . . has held that a voting change that has not been precleared cannot be implemented anywhere in the state.”
He cited a 1998 opinion by then-Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham, a Republican, that told elections supervisors that “application of new election laws are contingent upon preclearance by the Justice Department” under the federal Voting Rights Act.
Browning, a former Pasco County elections supervisor first appointed as secretary by Gov. Charlie Crist and reappointed by Scott, contends the opinion does not apply.
“The circumstances are very different. For instance, that opinion was written after the DOJ had already raised objections and it was on the eve of an election,” Browning spokesman Chris Cate said.