If Gov. Rick Scott and his administration are so convinced that major changes to election laws indeed will eliminate voter fraud (or the potential of it) — not merely make voting difficult for minority and poor people — he’d seek an imprimatur of fairness from the federal Department of Justice.
What could be better proof than an OK from an agency perceived by his administration to be in thrall to the political opposition?
Instead, Gov. Scott’s appointed secretary of state, Kurt Browning, is making an end run around Justice and seeking “preclearance” on those changes from the federal district court in Washington. The 1965 Voting Rights Act provides for preclearance from Justice or from the federal court for changes in states and counties with a history of discrimination. Justice usually is the venue for preclearance, and Mr. Browning first applied to Justice.
Now, Mr. Browning says, rather snidely, that he wanted to move preclearance to the court to eliminate “the risk of a ruling impacted by outside influence” from Justice and to be “assured of a neutral evaluation based on the facts.”
In other words, a Department of Justice headed by an Obama appointee would be less “neutral” than a federal court with many appointees from Republican presidents.
This is odd because Justice, under either party, has rarely rejected changes in election laws, according to a 40-year review by the Commission on Civil Rights in 2006. Under President Obama, Justice has precleared laws deemed restrictive by opponents. Further, challengers to voting laws have found little joy at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Opponents of Florida’s new law say the real motive is to make voting more difficult, especially for people new to voting, those who move frequently and those who have difficulty getting to the polls — people who are younger or poorer or likely to be minority. People suspected of being (gasp) Democrats.
The new provisions include a shortening of the time to two days from 10 that volunteer groups have to turn in voter registration applications, a shortening of time for validity of signatures on constitutional-amendment petition drives to two years from four, a decrease in days for early voting to eight days from 14 but with longer hours, and a provision requiring voters who change their addresses at the polls to cast only provisional ballots.