When the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a so-called electoral reform measure in its recent session and Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, signed it into law, several groups said the overhaul of the way Floridians vote was wholly unwarranted. Some of those groups have now gone a step further and have asked the Justice Department to block the law from taking effect.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed objections to the measure.

Particularly objectionable to them are provisions in the law that reduce the time for early voting from 14 days to eight, significantly curtail the ability of third party organizations to register voters – with severe penalties for violations – and impose new requirements for voters who cross county lines.

The non-partisan League of Women Voters already announced that it will no longer hold voter-registration drives in Florida – which perhaps was what the Republicans had been hoping for. An increasing number of newly registered voters tends to support the Democratic Party.

It is evident that the underlying objective of the law is not, as its supporters insist, making elections more tamper-proof. It is aimed at making voting by Democrats more difficult – in particular, for African Americans.

“We strongly believe that these laws discriminate against African-American voters and violate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” state Rep. Mia Jones, chairwoman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement.
The Jacksonville Democrat was referring to a requirement in the Voting Rights Act that some parts of the country must obtain “preclearance” from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for any electoral changes.

Florida is one of those areas because the Act covers five counties in the state – Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe – where there was past voter discrimination.

It is fortuitous that the Act is relevant here because it gives the federal government an opportunity to halt what is clearly an effort by Republican state lawmakers and the governor to ride roughshod over a fundamental right of Floridians: the right to vote.

Those who are elected to office, whether here in Florida or elsewhere, should be about the task of expanding people’s rights and making it possible for greater numbers of citizens to participate in the democratic process. Regrettably, too many of them are harkening back to a bygone era when voting was seen as the right of only one segment of the population. The Justice Department must act to prevent those politicians from turning the clock back.