Florida’s top election official is taking the most contentious parts of the state’s new election law to a federal judge. Secretary of State Kurt Browning says a court review will remove the possibility of “outside influence” and ensure a “neutral evaluation” of the new law, which is already in effect in most of Florida. But opponents are calling the move an end run around a long-established federal law.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires any changes in Florida’s election laws to get “pre-clearance” from the federal Department of Justice. That’s because parts of the state have a history of suppressing minority voting.
But in an unprecedented move, Secretary of State Kurt Browning has withdrawn the four most controversial parts of Florida’s new election law from the DOJ review. He says he’ll seek pre-clearance for those four parts from a federal judge instead. “He’s attempting to have a federal judge rule that the Voting Rights Act – the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act – don’t apply,” explains Orlando attorney Derek Brett. He’s an expert in election law and he teaches constitutional law at the University of Central Florida.
“How does a federal judge do that? The only way a federal judge could do that is if Mr. Browning is able to, in some way, present some type of constitutional argument,” says Brett. He adds he’s not sure what that argument might be.
The parts of the new Republican-sponsored law that are in question place restrictions on third-party voter registration, address changes at the polls, petition signature verification and early voting. These changes have already prompted lawsuits claiming the measure unfairly targets minorities and students, who tend to vote Democratic.
Browning and other supporters argue the changes are not discriminatory and that they’re meant to cut down on voter fraud.