With an eye toward the fall elections, Florida Democrats are hoping to build pressure on the Republican-controlled Legislature to adopt tougher voter-protections for minorities despite a sweeping elections reform enacted last year. Florida’s voting laws have seen a major overhaul since the problem-plagued 2012 presidential election, partly thanks to court-rulings that have halted a voter “purge” review of the legality of registered voters and the about-face the Legislature took in 2013 to expand early-voting. But at the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court last summer struck down provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act which served to protect minority voters from major changes in Florida – specifically, removing the requirement that changes get “pre-cleared” by the federal Justice Department before taking effect.
Democratic lawmakers have two bills filed to push for broader voting-rights, but neither is making any progress at mid-point of the 60-day session – gridlock which prompted them to schedule a Capitol press conference with voting-rights groups Tuesday. “These bills … are obviously not a priority of leadership,” said Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, who is pushing HB 1079/SB 1246 along with Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando.
The bill would require Florida’s attorney general to pre-clear changes to voting laws that affect urban populations and minorities. So far, the bill hasn’t had a hearing scheduled, and Fullwood said that was because GOP leadership wanted to see what effects the 2013 reforms have this election cycle. “Voters of color are more vulnerable than ever,” Thompson said.
Last year, the Legislature reversed changes it had made in 2011 shortening early voting from two weeks to eight days, and expanded the types of public facilities which could be used for early voting locations. But Democrats wanted even wider availability of so-called “convenience voting” options on college campuses and other places easier to access for urban, lower-income voters.