Lawyers for the state of Florida and the Justice Department argued in federal court on Thursday about whether Republican-backed changes to Florida’s voting laws constitute a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. William S. Consovoy, a lawyer representing Florida, said the disputed changes to Florida’s law – which include provisions trimming the number of days for early voting, placing restrictions on voter registration drives and requiring voters to cast provisional ballots if they change their addresses from another county on Election Day – are not discriminatory. “There is not even remotely enough evidence of a disproportionate impact,” on minority groups, he told three federal judges. Elise S. Shore, a lawyer for the Justice Department, countered that these changes to Florida’s law have a clear “racial impact.” “The evidence is compelling that each of the changes was done for a discriminatory purpose,” she said.
Both sides – along with intervening groups that also oppose the changes to Florida’s voting laws – presented their cases to a three-judge, federal court in Washington. The court is trying to determine whether the disputed sections of a new Florida law violate the federal Voting Rights Act. The judges appeared skeptical of all sides, asking pointed questions of lawyers for both Florida and the Justice Department. The court will consider Thursday’s arguments as well as hundreds of pages of legal briefs before making a ruling in the case.
Under the Voting Rights Act, certain sections of Florida’s new election law must still be approved, or pre-cleared, by the Washington-based court. The act applies to five Florida counties – Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – because they have a history of racial discrimination. The sections under review by the Washington court were passed as a part of sweeping election law changes passed by Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature. Critics, including most Democrats, have said the law is designed to suppress turnout by minorities, the elderly and young people who tend to vote Democratic. Republicans have said they passed the restrictions to curb voter fraud.