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Brennan Center Criticizes DOJ Approval of Voter Registration Law

Brennan Center criticized the DOJ for its decision to approve Florida’s revised law restricting voter registration drives.

January 24, 2008

For Immediate Release:

January 24, 2008

Renée Paradis, 212–992–8162
Tim Bradley, 646–452–5637

Expert: Preclearance Violates Letter And Spirit Of Voting Rights Act

New York—Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law criticized the U.S. Department of Justice for its decision to approve Florida’s revised law restricting voter registration drives.

In September, the Brennan Center wrote to the Department of Justice to urge them to reject the law and explain how Florida’s revised law would force organizations to cease or cut back on their voter registration drives, which would disproportionately affect black, Hispanic, and Spanish-speaking voters. A copy of the letter is available by clicking here. The Brennan Center then sent a second letter in December. A copy of the letter is available here.

Last year, in League of Women Voters of Florida v. Cobb, the state’s restrictions on voter registration drives were declared unconstitutional.  After the ruling, the Florida state legislature went back and reenacted the law with slight changes. It is the revised law that received approval yesterday from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

“This decision will effectively disenfranchise thousands of minority voters across Florida. Black and Hispanic voters and voters from Spanish-speaking households are twice as likely to register to vote through these third-party voter registration drives than white voters or voters from English-speaking households,” said Renée Paradis, Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “By making it difficult to conduct voter registration drives, Florida’s law reduces the electoral participation of eligible voters from communities protected under the Voting Rights Act.”

“It’s disappointing but not surprising that the Department of Justice would fail to honor both the letter and the spirit of the Voting Rights Act by approving a law that will discourage black, Hispanic, and Spanish-speaking American citizens from participating in our democracy, particularly in a presidential election year when voter registration drives are usually at their height,” said Paradis.

The Voting Rights Act requires states to obtain “preclearance” of a voting law before it can go into effect. The Act requires the Department of Justice to not preclear a law unless the law leaves protected minorities no worse off than they would have been without it. In recent years, the DOJ’s Voting Section has been criticized for politicized preclearance decisions. In 2005, the first version of the Georgia voter ID bill was precleared despite the recommendation of a majority of the Voting Section staff who worked on it, who found the law’s strict requirements would have a clear retrogressive effect on the rights of black voters. 

Florida’s new law will impose escalating penalties on voter registration groups that do not file new registrant’s forms within a limited time frame. The rules also hold organizations liable for innocent mistakes, a third party’s malicious acts (including those of disgruntled employees or political opponents), and potentially even the state’s mishandling or loss of applications. After the original registration law went into effect in 2006, the League of Women Voters of Florida stopped registering voters for the first time in its 67-year history. The AFL-CIO and SEIU Healthcare Union also ceased their registration efforts.