TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Two groups that advocate for voter rights sued Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Friday to stop implementation of a new elections law that critics say was written to discourage voters likely to support Democrats.
The lawsuit was filed in a Miami federal court by The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Project Vote on behalf of nine plaintiffs. It argues that the elections law
changes must first be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice Department to ensure that they aren't discriminatory before they can be implemented anywhere in the state.
The law puts tighter restrictions on groups that conduct voter registration drives, requires voters who give a change of address at the polling place to cast a provisional ballot and reduces the number of early voting days. Critics say voter registration drives often seek to enroll minority voters, and that the provision against casting a regular ballot if there's an address change will disproportionately affect lower income residents and college students _ groups that tend to vote for Democrats.
Republican lawmakers who passed the elections bill said it would help prevent voting fraud. Republicans in about 25 other states introduced similar legislation.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning said last month the law would be submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for preclearance under the federal Voting Rights Act to determine if it discriminates against minority voters. In the meantime, he said, the law will be in effect everywhere except five counties for which preclearance is required.
If U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder determines that it does discriminate, the law can no longer be enforced.
“We're following the law,'' said Scott spokesman Lane Wright. “We feel like the request for an injunction is baseless.''
Browning is also named in the lawsuit.
The law shouldn't be in effect in any part of the state until it is precleared, said ACLU lawyer Laughlin McDonald. He also said it's unfair to treat voters differently in based on which county they're in. He said the state has previously issued opinions that election law changes can't be implemented anywhere in the state until they've received the Department of Justice review and that election law must be uniform throughout the state.
“The opinion that they cite doesn't apply to this case, the circumstances are much different,'' said Department of State spokesman Chris Cate. “We look forward to presenting our case.''
Estelle Rogers, a lawyer for Washington D.C.-based Project Vote, called the new law “foolish and un-American.'' Project Vote is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that advocates for low-income, minority, youth, and “other marginalized and under-represented voters.''
“Laws like this one make it nearly impossible for voter registration drives to operate in Florida and it is through voter registration drives that many low-income and minority Floridians become registered,'' Rogers said.