TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A Florida election law passed by the Republican-led Legislature is drawing yet another legal challenge.
Last year, state legislators passed a law that curtailed early voting hours, imposed new restrictions on groups that register voters and made it harder for people to change their address on Election Day. The law was strongly opposed by Democrats and triggered a lawsuit by voter registration groups.
The changes have never taken effect in five counties _ including Hillsborough, Monroe and Collier _ because the law it still under review by a federal court. Federal authorities must review any voting changes impacting those five counties because of past discrimination.
In the past, state election officials would delay changes for the entire state until federal authorities had approved them. But then-Secretary of State Kurt Browning directed 62 counties to go ahead and follow the new law. It does not appear that the federal court will make a final determination on the changes until after the Aug. 14 primary election.
Now the ACLU and others want an administrative judge to order state election officials to rescind the policy. Their legal challenge contends the Department of State is exceeding its authority and violates a state law that requires a uniform set of election rules.
“Gov. (Rick) Scott's insistence that the state go forward with two different sets of voting laws and procedures in different counties not only violates Florida law requiring uniform elections throughout the state, it is a recipe for chaos and another embarrassment for our state,'' said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida in a statement.
Chris Cate, a spokesman for current Secretary of State Ken Detzner, defended the state's actions so far. He pointed out that Florida held a successful presidential preference primary under the dual sets of rules back in January.
“The Department of State's authority to order 62 counties to ignore a duly-adopted law, as suggested by the plaintiffs in this case, is at best highly questionable,'' Cate said in an email response to questions.
Cate added that if the state of Florida had its way the five counties would no longer be under federal watch
This is yet another round of litigation adding to a long line of lawsuits contesting Florida election laws in a crucial election year when the state may prove pivotal to the outcome of the presidential election.
In June, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle temporarily blocked parts of the law that placed restrictions on voter registration drives. He said the provisions signed into law last year by Scott made the drives “risky business,'' and said the practice is protected under the First Amendment.
Florida's push to identify and remove potentially ineligible voters also is being challenged.
Hinkle last week refused to stop Florida from removing potentially non-U.S. citizens from its voter rolls despite the U.S. Department of Justice arguing it was going on too close to a federal election.