A highly controversial bill, passed by the Legislature earlier this month and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott at any moment, could mean all the difference in the 2012 presidential election.
State Republican lawmakers who passed HB 1355 say they want to eliminate the potential for voter fraud, but Democrats claim the bill is nothing more than a partisan pre-election attack aimed at disenfranchising left-leaning voters, and note that there have been no serious cases of voter fraud in Florida during the past two election cycles.
Democrats, who are grossly outnumbered at the state level, could do little to prevent the bill from passing the House and Senate on party line votes. On the national level, however, Democrats are alerting the Department of Justice about the bill and what they claim is its potential to hinder a citizen’s right to vote. All six members of Florida’s congressional delegation, as well as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, sent a letter Tuesday to the Department of Justice asking for a review of the bill. The review is enabled by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because of historic discrimination in five counties.
“We urge you to use the authority granted to the Department of Justice by the Voting Rights Act to review the impact of HB 1355 on the five Florida counties currently protected under Section 5 preclearance requirements. We are confident that any honest examination of this legislation will determine that it is in clear violation of the Voting Rights Act,” the letter reads in part.
HB 1355 decreases the number of days allowed for early voting from 14 to six. Democrats typically outnumber Republicans in early voting periods in Florida. The bill also prevents voters who move outside their former county from changing their address on the day of an election (although there is an exemption for military members and their families), and imposes fines and restrictions on third-party voter registration groups. Democrats claim those provisions are aimed at college students and civic groups that look to register voters.
In their letter to the Department of Justice, Florida’s congressional Democrats said those provisions would have a “chilling effect” on voter registration in the Sunshine State.