On July 3, 2012, Florida State Senator Arthenia Joyner, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and National Council of La Raza filed a petition with the State of Florida Division of Administrative Hearings challenging Florida’s non-uniform application of its recent changes in election law. Since May 2011 it has applied one set of election laws to Florida’s five counties that require preclearance under the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and another set of elections laws in the other 62 counties in the state.
In 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 1355, an omnibus bill that introduced a set of new voting restrictions. Among other provisions, the bill reduced early voting periods, created onerous burdens for third-party voter registration organizations, and eliminated the ability of in-state movers to cast a regular ballot at the polls. Because five Florida counties have a history of racial discrimination, they require “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or a federal court under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. As a result, changes to election law in Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties cannot be made without that preclearance. Florida has filed a suit under the Voting Rights Act in federal court seeking “preclearance” to implement changes to the election law in those five counties.
Because preclearance has not yet been obtained, there has been no enforcement of Florida’s election changes in those five counties.However, Florida immediately began implementing the new election law in the other 62 counties in Florida. Because Florida state law prohibits this unequal implementation of its voting laws across the state, the Brennan Center joined the Lawyer’s Committee and pro bono partners at Bryan Cave LLP to challenge this illegal application of critical election and voting laws.
The groups argue that Florida Secretary of State, as chief election officer, is violating Florida’s Uniformity Statute, which requires uniformity in the interpretation and implementation of election laws. In the past, Florida’s Secretary of State has held off on implementing any new election laws across the state until the five VRA-covered counties were precleared, in order to ensure statewide uniformity in elections. By changing course and implementing a dual system, in which different laws apply to different counties, the Secretary of State has failed to maintain uniformity in Florida’s election laws.
A hearing is scheduled for August 10. The Division of Administrative Hearings intends to deliver a final order on September 5.
Brennan Center filings: