Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning announced Tuesday that the Obama administration had cleared 76 changes to state election law that the GOP-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott approved earlier this year.
But the “pre-clearance” from the U.S. Department of Justice doesn’t cover the four most controversial parts of the law. Last month, Browning asked a federal court in Washington D.C. to approve those changes, saying he didn’t think they’d get a “fair hearing” from Justice. The changes include reducing the number of days voters will have for early voting and new restrictions on third-party voter registration groups.
Legislation affecting voting must get federal approval because five counties in the state — Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe — face extra scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act. Florida can either submit the legislation to the Justice Department or to the federal district court in Washington D.C.
“The areas that we went in [to court] on, we wanted to make sure that it was decided by the courts, make sure that it was because ultimately the courts are going to make the decision so it was the right approach on the issues that we went in on,” Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday.
In a statement Tuesday, Browning said the Justice Department decision “confirms what we already know, that Florida’s new election laws are fair and not discriminatory. I expect the federal district court will also agree that the new laws are fair when it reviews the remaining provisions.”
The sections of the Florida law that are now before the court require third-party registration groups to submit voter registration cards within 48 hours or suffer large fines; largely discontinue name or registration changes at the polls; limit the number of days for early voting; and make it harder to verify voter signatures on petitions.