Florida’s Secretary of State’s office is defending its decision to take the most contentious parts of a new election law to a federal court instead of to the U.S. Department of Justice. The law has to get federal approval, but there are questions about how the process should work.
The U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires any changes in Florida’s election laws to get “pre-clearance” from the federal government. That’s because parts of the state have a history of suppressing minority voting.
Contrary to analysis heard on Wednesday’s Morning Edition on WMFE, the Voting Rights Act does allow a jurisdiction to choose whether to seek that pre-clearance from the Justice Department or from a federal court.
Chris Cate is with the Florida Secretary of State’s office. “Our priority is to ensure that this bill gets a fair and objective evaluation,” says Cate. “And in doing so, we’ve chosen to have 76 sections of our new elections law be judged by the Department of Justice, and four measures be judged by the federal district court in Washington.” But it’s unclear whether any jurisdiction has ever asked for both types of pre-clearance at once for separate provisions of the same law.
The four sections Florida removed from the DOJ review have prompted lawsuits claiming they unfairly target minorities. Those measures restrict third-party voter registration, address changes at the polls, petition signature verification and early voting. Cate says the changes are not discriminatory and that they’re meant to cut down on voter fraud.
Read the relevant section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 here.