National: GAO report: Voter ID laws stunted turnout | The Hill

Voter ID laws helped contribute to lower voter turnout in Kansas and Tennessee in 2012,according a new study by the Government Accountability Office. Congress’s research arm blamed the two states’ laws requiring that voters show identification on a dip in turnout in 2012 — about 2 percentage points in Kansas and between 2.2 and 3.2 percentage points in Tennessee. Those declines were greater among younger and African-American voters, when compared to turnout in other states. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) requested the report in light of last year’s decision by the Supreme Court striking down part of the Voting Rights Act. The decision freed a number of states from a pre-clearance requirement to run all changes to voting laws by the Department of Justice.

Florida: Study: In 2012, Florida voters waited the longest to cast ballots | McClatchy

Voters in Florida waited far longer than those in other states to cast their votes in the 2012 election, hampered by long ballots and cutbacks in early voting options, according to a new report by congressional auditors. Voters in the state stood in line more than 34 minutes on average, significantly longer than ballot-casters did in any other state reviewed by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog. The shortest waits? Alaska, at just 1.4 minutes. Three others states had wait times about 25 or more minutes: Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina. But most of the others fell somewhere between five minutes and 20 minutes, on average. In Florida, the GAO estimated, 16 percent of voters waited 61 minutes or more to cast their ballots – tops among the states surveyed. “People should not have to stand in line for hours to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said in a statement.

Florida: Nelson tells state Democrats to push election reform | Tampa Tribune

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson urged House Democrats to do whatever it takes to make sure proposed election reform measures pass during the 2014 legislative session. “(House Democrats should) use every parliamentary mechanism at their disposal to try to fulfill the American dream, which is the right to vote, to be able to cast that vote and have the confidence to know that when you count that vote it is going be counted as you intended,” he said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. Nelson, an Orlando-area Democrat, met with state lawmakers Wednesday to discuss election reform measures. He spent about 15 minute talking with House Democrats before heading over the Senate to speak with Senate Democrats.

National: New bill aims to make sure no one waits over half an hour to vote | MSNBC

President Obama said last month that no one should have to wait more than half an hour to vote. Now two Democratic senators are introducing a bill aimed at making that pledge a reality. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida, is the first effort to act on the recommendations of a bipartisan presidential commission, unveiled last month. “In a democracy, you’re supposed to make it easier and less of hardship for people to vote, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” said Nelson in a statement sent out Wednesday evening.

Editorials: Absentee ballot suppression in Florida? |

Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner, set off political alarms and quick responses in late November when he ordered the state’s 67 supervisors of elections to stop taking absentee ballots at remote locations. Detzner is the chief elections adviser for Gov. Rick Scott. Detzner told elections officials not to “solicit return” of absentee ballots anywhere but an elections office or its official branches. Sen. Bill Nelson quickly came forward stating his concern that the new rule was an attempt at voter suppression. He told the press “This is so obvious that it’s making it harder to vote for the average folks, whether Republican or Democrat.” It has become conventional election wisdom during recent years that more votes generally translate into Democrat votes. A smaller election turnout generally favors Republicans.

Editorials: Stop restricting Florida voting rights | Miami Herald

Yet another flap between state officials and Florida’s county election supervisors is in the news, raising new questions about the motives of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Are they committed to making it easier for all eligible Floridians to vote or is their real goal to make it more difficult? So wondered U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, before meeting with Tampa Bay area elections supervisors on Tuesday. “I just don’t understand why the state keeps making it harder for people to vote,” he said. Good question. First, the governor signed a bill in 2011 that restricted the hours for early voting, raising the ire of county supervisors. They warned of lengthy delays for voters during the 2012 presidential election. They were so right — some voters in South Florida stood in line for eight hours just to exercise their constitutional right. That’s unconscionable. The governor and Mr. Detzner also tried to purge voter rolls before the presidential election — with disastrous results. The “purge” was so riddled with mistakes and misinformation that its instigators finally cancelled it.

Florida: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson charges Gov. Rick Scott’s administration with voter suppression | Sun Sentinel

Even as Gov. Rick Scott’s top elections official suddenly backed away from a plan to restrict the way voters can return completed absentee ballots, Florida’s top Democrat accused the Scott administration of attempting to suppress voter turnout. “It’s patently obvious. It’s an attempt to suppress the vote by people who otherwise might have difficulty getting to the polls on Election Day,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., at a news conference Wednesday at the Palm Beach County Elections Office headquarters. Americans’ right to vote is “precious” and guaranteed by the Constitution, Nelson said. “When you start making it more difficult to cast that ballot, that is interfering with that constitutional right.”

Florida: Florida is already making it harder to vote, thanks to the Supreme Court | The Week

In June, the Supreme Court struck down a central piece of the Voting Rights Act, a move that Democrats warned would lead to a resurgence of restrictive, state-level voting laws. And indeed, since that ruling, a handful of Republican-led states have already renewed such efforts. As a quick refresher, the court nixed Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which established a formula to determine which jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination had to get “preclearance” from the Department of Justice before revising their voting laws. The DOJ still has that preclearance power, but without Section 4, that power is largely toothless. In response, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) this week asked state officials to resume scrubbing “noncitizens” from the state’s voting rolls. Scott launched that effort before the 2012 election, but his plan was held up by legal challenges from critics who claimed it was a blatantly partisan attempt to purge poor and minority voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. “Governor Scott seemingly is bent on suppressing the vote in Florida, with his latest move coming as an unfortunate result of the recent Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) said.

National: Long Florida election lines prompt federal voter bill | Orlando Sentinel

Long lines on Election Day in Florida and elsewhere spurred a call from President Barack Obama Tuesday for a bipartisan commission “to improve the voting experience” and drew new support for federal legislation aimed at cutting wait times. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama said that five-, six- and seven-hour voting lines – seen in Florida during the Nov. 6 election and detailed in an Orlando Sentinel analysis – “are betraying our ideals.” He said he has asked experts from his and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns to jointly lead the voting commission. Also Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida declared that he is joining fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer of California as lead sponsors of a bill that would establish a goal that “no American voter has to wait longer than an hour to cast a ballot” in a federal election.

Editorials: Florida voters purge: A ham-handed solution to a problem that doesn’t exist | Orlando Sentinel

Bill Internicola had to show his papers. He received a letter last month from the Broward County, Fla., Supervisor of Elections informing him the office had “information from the state of Florida that you are not a United States citizen; however, you are registered to vote.” So Internicola had to prove he is an American. He sent the county a copy of his Army discharge papers. Internicola is 91 years old. He was born in Brooklyn. He is a veteran of the Second World War. He earned a Bronze Star for his part in the Battle of the Bulge. Yet he was required to prove to a county functionary that he is entitled to vote in an American election. We learn from reporter Amy Sherman’s story last week in The Miami Herald that this is part of a campaign by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, to weed non-citizens off the rolls of the state’s voters. Initially, Florida claimed 180,000 were possible non-citizens. That number was eventually whittled way down to about 2,600 people. In Miami-Dade County, where the largest number of them live, 385 have been verified as citizens. Ten – 10! – have admitted they are ineligible or asked to be removed from the rolls. The Herald recently analyzed the list and found it dominated by Democrats, independents and Hispanics. Republicans and non-Hispanic whites were least likely to have their voting rights challenged.

Editorials: Florida’s voting fairness problem | Tampa Bay Times

As Republican primary voters go to the polls today, there is a cloud over the state’s voting process. Florida law imposes undue burdens on African-American, Hispanic and younger voters, according to witnesses at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing in Tampa on Friday. The testimony adds to the mounting evidence that the election law changes Florida Republicans passed last spring to ostensibly address voter fraud — a nonexistent problem in this state — are designed to interfere with the voting rights of Democratic-leaning constituencies.

Florida: In Tampa, U.S. Senate Hearing to Target Florida’s Voter Rules | South Florida Times

A new state law that limits Florida’s early voting period and makes it more difficult for third-party organizations such as the NAACP and the League of Women Voters to register voters will be examined Friday at a special U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in Tampa. Concerned state and federal lawmakers and civic leaders say they want the session to be a mandate for reversal of some of the restrictive measures passed last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Among the bill’s controversial provisions are tougher voter-ID requirements that critics say discourage, if not disenfranchise, minorities, the elderly, the disabled and the homeless and new and young voters.

Florida: US Senate panel to investigate Florida voting laws | MiamiHerald

A congressional panel has agreed to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s request to investigate new voting laws passed by Florida’s Legislature. Sen. Dick Durbin sent the Florida Democrat a letter Tuesday, saying that he agrees the new laws will disenfranchise a wide swath of Florida’s young, minority, senior, disabled, rural and low-income voters. Durbin chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Durbin says he is planning to hold a field hearing with his subcommittee to take a closer look at new voting laws in Florida and other states. Some of the new voting laws would reduce early voting days, impose new rules on voter registration drives and make it tougher to get citizen initiatives on the ballot.

Florida: Nelson wants Justice Department to investigate new voter laws | Post on Politics

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whose bid for a third term next year may be hinged on a strong turnout among Florida Democrats, continued to put heat on the strict new elections law approved earlier this year by the Republican-ruled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Nelson on Thursday called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether new standards that took effect in Florida and 13 other states are part of a GOP-backed effort at keeping minorities, college students and other Democratic-leaning voters from the polls.

“These voting changes could make it significantly harder for an estimated five-million eligible voters in numerous states to cast their ballots in 2012,” Nelson wrote, in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, citing the findings of the first comprehensive study of the voting laws’ impact by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Florida: Senator Bill Nelson wants congressional investigation of election law changes |

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.

Florida: Nelson urges Scott to revamp elections law after teacher draws warning | Post on Politics

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has sent a critical letter to Republican Gov. Rick Scott and plans to meet Wednesday with a Volusia County high school teacher whose student voter registration drive could violate Florida’s tough, new elections law.

The law is already being challenged in court by the ACLU and allied organizations. But Nelson is calling on Scott to push for revamping or repealing the measure following the case of Jill Cicciarelli, a New Smyrna Beach teacher and adviser to a local high school’s student government association.

Cicciarelli was registering students to vote since the beginning of the school year. But county Elections Supervisor Ann McFall said she was required to report Cicciarelli to the Florida Department of State apparently for violating the new  standard for those acting as third-party registration organizations.

Florida: New Florida election law stirs up controversy | Daytona Beach News-Journal

The teacher who heads up New Smyrna Beach High School’s student government association could face thousands of dollars in fines. Her transgression? Helping students register to vote. Prepping 17-year-olds for the privileges and responsibilities of voting in a democracy is nothing new for civics teachers, but when Jill Cicciarelli organized a drive at the start of the school year to get students pre-registered, she ran afoul of Florida’s new and controversial election law.

Among other things, the new rules require that third parties who sign up new voters register with the state and that they submit applications within 48 hours. The law also reduces the time for early voting from 14 days to eight and requires voters who want to give a new address at the polls to use a provisional ballot.