Discriminatory Florida Voting Law Changes Criticized by Non-Partisan Groups

Release Date: June 28, 2011, 12:00 am

In Letter, Three Groups Urge the Attorney General to Reject Controversial Changes to FL Voting Law

WASHINGTON, DC – Today three non-partisan organizations - the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN), Florida Public Interest Research Group (FL PIRG), and Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment (FIRE) - urged Attorney General Eric Holder to reject a controversial change to Florida’s voting laws.  The groups sent a letter to the Department of Justice, calling for Attorney General Holder to block the law, citing three specific changes included in Florida’s newly enacted omnibus elections bill.

The letter takes issue with changes to Florida law that would:

  • Reduce the number of days for early voting from 14 to 8 days, and eliminate it on the Sunday before election day,
  • Implement burdensome restrictions on third-party voter registration efforts and,
  • Require registered voters who move across county lines to cast a provisional ballot instead of a regular ballot if they update their information at the polls.

The groups point out that proposed changes to third-party voter registration efforts would be so limiting that it would effectively eliminate third-party registration altogether. Furthermore, data shows that African Americans will be disproportionately and adversely affected by the changes in early voting, as they make up a majority of early voters in Florida. Minority voters are also more likely to be registered by third parties, and change addresses with a higher frequency.

FELN President Robert Brandon reacted to the proposed change saying, “Since the election in 2000, the state of Florida has made efforts to make voting more convenient and certifiable.  This legislation turns back the clock to a darker day when laws were used to discourage voting, not promote it.”

Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act election law changes in 5 Florida Counties must be approved or “pre-cleared” to avoid election law changes that “have a retrogressive effect” on the voting rights of minority voters.              

"African American and Latino voters will undoubtedly be worse off as a result of these changes," says Denise Diaz, Board Member of the Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment. "By limiting the ability of groups like ours to conduct voter registration efforts, and restricting access to early voting and address updates, the new rules will make it harder for the communities we work with to register to vote, to vote, and to cast ballots that count."

Five Florida counties (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe) are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, meaning that changes to statewide voting laws in Florida must be approved by the Department of Justice or the federal district court in the District of Columbia before they may be implemented. The decision whether or not to let these discriminatory and controversial changes be enacted now rests with Attorney General Holder and the federal court system.

A copy of the letter can be found here.