WFSU News Team
Tue July 3, 2012
Another legal challenge to Florida election law
Florida is again faced with another legal challenge over its elections process. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are calling for an end to the state’s dual system of elections.
Out of Florida’s 67 counties, 5 of them have to get pre-cleared by the federal government before any change can be implemented, that’s due to a history of language and racial discrimination. But Baylor Johnson, a spokesman for the ACLU of Florida says having five counties follow their own elections rules creates a two tiered system. “What you have is two different sets of laws dictating elections in the state of Florida. That sets the stage for different kinds of problems and is in violation of the law.”
Last year the Florida Legislature passed a new election law that curtailed early voting hours and made it harder for people to change their address on Election Day. The changes have not yet taken effect in those five counties because it is still under federal review. But this two tiered system has already survived the Presidential Preference Primary back in January. Johnson said when state officials realized they were about to lose a Justice Department review, for violating the Voting Rights Act, they decided to push ahead with the new law in 62 counties and skip the ones under more intense scrutiny. “Now that violates a portion of the state law known as the uniformity statute which requires uniform elections throughout the state.”
But Chris Cate a spokesman for the Florida Department of State says they are waiting for the federal government to clear the five counties so they can adopt the law followed by all the rest. “If the five counties are denied pre-clearance approval then the new law will not go into effect in those five counties but that denial will not impact the rest of the state because they are already implementing the new law." Cate adds the department is confident that the new elections law is not discriminatory and will be approved. They are hoping to get a ruling soon, so the process doesn’t drag on.
In the meantime, the ACLU, along with Democratic Tampa Senator Arthenia Joyner and the National Council of La Raza are taking the latest jab in the ongoing battle over Florida elections, by asking an administrative judge to order officials to use one set of rules for the entire state.