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DOJ Opposes New Florida Voting Restrictions, Citing Possible Discriminatory Purpose Or Effect

Last May, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a vote suppression bill that radically overhauled the state’s election laws, reducing the time available for early voting, invalidating absentee ballots if the voter’s signature doesn’t closely match the one on file, and forcing provisional ballots for voters whose names or addresses have changed. At the time, numerous state publications and critics noted that this was most likely intended to cripple turnout among low-income voters, seniors, students, and minorities who tend to lean Democratic.

Because parts of Florida are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, after Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed the controversial bill, it went to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for a pre-clearance review. Though the DOJ determined that several of the key changes were not valid under federal law, Florida filed a lawsuit seeking to preserve the law.

In a filing yesterday, the DOJ told the court:

As to the voter registration, early voting, and inter-county movers sets of voting changes enacted by Chapter 2011–40, amending Fla. Stat. §§ 97.0575, 101.657, and 101.045, respectively, the United States’ position is that the State of Florida has not met its burden of proof under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, on behalf of its covered counties, that these three sets of proposed voting changes neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.

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In an earlier filing, the DOJ observed that the law, as written, would have a retrogressive effect on voting rights.

Since that may have been the Florida Republican’s intent to begin with, it will be interesting to watch the state to try to prove to the court that this voter suppression bill will not have the effect of voter suppression.