It’s no secret: Over the last year, state legislatures — largely those run by Republicans — have taken up and in many cases passed a series of laws that create new obstacles for voters, especially historically disenfranchised voters and Democrats. The “war on voting” includes measures requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, restrictions on voter registration, shortening of the early voting period and in Florida, a rule making it more difficult for ex-felons to vote. And as Facing South has shown, in a tight battleground state like Florida, the GOP laws could make all the difference in 2012.
In the face of the voting-restriction juggernaut, voting rights advocates in the South have one tool for fighting back that most other states don’t: Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires covered states to gain approval from the Department of Justice before carrying out major changes to voting laws. With the 2012 elections just a year away, what has the Justice Department done so far? While DOJ’s response to state redistricting plans has been largely muted, so far justice officials have taken an active interest in scrutinizing and challenging Southern state laws that affect voting rights.
Florida: It’s no coincidence that Florida, one of the most prized battlegrounds in 2012, is also the state where GOP leaders pushed the most far-reaching changes to voting laws. After voting rights groups asked the DOJ to deny preclearance, Florida pulled several provisions from HB 1355 — including restrictions on third-party registration and shortening the early voting period — from their approval request to DOJ, instead submitting them to the U.S. District Court in D.C.