U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is asking that Congress investigate whether restrictive new voting laws in more than a dozen states — including Florida — are part of an “orchestrated effort to disenfranchise voters,” according to a letter released Tuesday. The request by the Florida Democrat — who’s running for re-election in 2012 — follows a report last month by the Brennan Center for Justice, a watchdog group based in New York City, that found new regulations passed in 14 states, most them Republican-controlled, could make it harder for 5 million voters to cast ballots nationwide.
Nelson has requested that a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hold field hearings in the 14 states to see whether the efforts were coordinated and “to what extent such might be illegal,” according to a letter he sent to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.
The move by Nelson comes as changes to Florida’s election rules — including fewer early-voting days — get their first day in court today. Florida sought the judicial review to avoid asking the U.S. Department of Justice for approval under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Five counties — Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe — fall under the law.
Lawyers representing the state, several voting-rights groups and the Justice Department will meet at the U.S. District Court here to settle on a hearing schedule to review the changes. A three-judge panel ordered the conference last week in a ruling that suggested a decision might not come until at least May, or well after Florida’s Jan. 31 presidential primary.