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Browning Seeks Court Approval for Parts of New State Election Law

August 2, 2011 | WMFE - Florida's top election official is taking the most contentious parts of the state's new election law to a federal court. Secretary of State Kurt Browning says a court review will remove the possibility of "outside influence" and ensure a "neutral evaluation" of the new law, which is already in effect in most of Florida. But opponents are calling the move an end run around the Obama administration's Department of Justice.

Note: Upon further review, WMFE has learned that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does allow for voting law changes to obtain “pre-clearance” either from The Department of Justice or from a federal court in Washington, D.C. It remains unclear, however, whether any jurisdiction has ever asked for both review processes at once for separate provisions of the same law. WMFE’s research on this matter is ongoing.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires any changes in Florida’s election laws to get "pre-clearance" from the federal Department of Justice. That's because parts of the state have a history of suppressing minority voting. 

But in an unprecedented move, Secretary of State Kurt Browning has withdrawn the four most controversial parts of Florida’s new election law from the DOJ review. He says he’ll seek pre-clearance for those four parts from a federal court in Washington, D.C. instead.

“He’s attempting to have a federal judge rule that the Voting Rights Act – the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act – don’t apply,” explains Orlando attorney Derek Brett. He's an expert in election law and he teaches constitutional law at the University of Central Florida.  

"How does a federal judge do that? The only way a federal judge could do that is if Mr. Browning is able to in some way present some type of constitutional argument,” Brett says. He adds he doesn't know what that argument would be. 

The parts of the new Republican-sponsored law that are in question place restrictions on third-party voter registration, address changes at the polls, petition signature verification and early voting. These changes have already prompted lawsuits claiming the measure unfairly targets minorities and students, who tend to vote Democratic.

Browning and other supporters argue the changes are not discriminatory and that they’re meant to prevent voter fraud.


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