A divided U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will not convene hearings on Florida’s new election law, despite a request from the state’s six Democratic members of Congress, who charged that the measure intentionally limited access to the polls by blacks and many other Florida voters. But four members of the deadlocked commission – all Democrats – are independently requesting a U.S. Justice Department probe into the origins of the law, HB 1355, passed last year by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Rick Scott. And U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, said Thursday that after four newly-elected Democratic congressmen are sworn in next month, bringing the state’s Democratic delegation to 10, he also hopes to take the issue directly to the Justice Department with their backing. “I’m going to try to get all 10 to sign on and we’ll see what the Justice Department does,” Hastings said. “After all, we have a smoking gun here.”
Hastings said there was evidence in Florida of “possible criminal violations” of voting rights laws that warranted a federal probe. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, another signer of the original request to the commission, was also displeased with the outcome. “It’s outrageous that the commission is unwilling to proceed,” he said.
Florida’s Congressional Democrats requested the Civil Rights Commission hearing after The Palm Beach Post published stories in October and November on the origins of HB 1355. In one story, former GOP state chairman Jim Greer told The Post that he attended meetings in 2009 where Republican staffers and consultants spoke of changing Florida electoral laws to intentionally suppress Democratic voters, in particular minority voters.