For Immediate Release:
November 7, 2007
Susan Lehman, 917–998–6318
Justice Department Witholds Approval of Revised Florida Voter Registration Law, Demands Further Justification From State
Following comments from the Brennan Center for Justice, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) demanded that the State of Florida justify a newly revised voter registration law.
Voting Section Chief John Tanner took the action based on requirements
in the Voting Rights Act that subject new voting laws in certain states
to approval (or “preclearance”) from the Civil Rights Division before
they can be put into effect.
Last month, the Brennan Center asked the DOJ to reject the law because the new provisions could force organizations to cease or restrict their voter registration drives – an action which would disproportionately affect black, Hispanic, and Spanish-speaking voters. In its letter to the DOJ, the Brennan Center argued that because the revised law would unduly harm Florida’s minority community, it should not be precleared by the DOJ. Last week, the DOJ asked for further information on the effect of the revised law on minority voters in the counties covered by the federal law. Such requests for further information are atypical and suggest serious scrutiny of the revised law.
“We’re pleased the Justice Department has asked the state for more evidence that the law will comply with the Voting Rights Act,” said Renée Paradis, Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “In an election year, it is especially important to make sure that Florida’s voting laws do not unduly restrict the ability of eligible voters to participate in elections.”
In 2006, Florida passed a law that restricted the ability of groups to conduct voter registration drives. On behalf of the League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups, the Brennan Center and co-counsel successfully challenged the law’s constitutionality. The Florida state legislature then went back and revised the law with some slight changes.
In recent years, the DOJ’s Voting Rights Section has been criticized for what some perceive as politicized preclearance decisions. For instance, in 2005, the first version of the Georgia voter ID bill was precleared despite the recommendation of a majority of the Voting Rights staff who worked on it, who found the law’s strict requirements would have a clear retrogressive effect on the rights of black voters. That version was later found unconstitutional by both state and federal courts.