U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has injected himself into a partisan controversy over Florida’s new election laws that include changes in early voting and registering of new voters. The changes, passed by the Republican Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, antagonized voter advocacy groups and Democrats. They accuse the GOP of seeking to suppress voter turnout in 2012, especially among African-Americans and college students. Republicans say their goal is to bolster faith in the voting process and limit voter fraud.
Holder expressed concern about new voting laws passed in state capitals this year, including in Florida, during a speech Tuesday at the Lyndon Baines Johnson presidential library in Texas. “The answers are clear,” Holder said. “We need election systems that are free from fraud, discrimination and partisan influence, and that are more — not less — accessible to the citizens of this country.” In Florida’s case, a pending court review will force the state to hold a presidential primary next month under two separate sets of election laws.
Pinellas is one of 62 counties that will enforce the new law, which includes a reduction in early-voting days. Hillsborough and four other counties will follow the old law.
“We’ll put on a full-court press and educate our voters that we are in a different situation,” said Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard.
Holder’s Justice Department has already approved most routine sections of the new Florida law. But the government must pre-clear four specific and controversial changes to ensure that they protect the rights of minorities in Hillsborough and four other counties — Collier, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe.