June 21, 2012

Civil Rights Groups, DOJ Fight to Save Right to Vote in Florida


Advancement Project, Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Justice, DOJ, Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, Justin Levitt, League of Women Voters, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, The Brennan Center for Justice, voter suppression

by Jeremy Leaming

Unless the Department of Justice and civil rights groups are able to block or greatly minimize Florida’s onerous new restrictions on voting and kill the state’s tawdry attempt to purge voter rolls, the constitutional right to vote for many will face serious obstacles in the sunshine state.

Florida is by no means the only state bent on making the right to a vote a major pain. Wisconsin, South Carolina, Texas, and other Republican controlled states have been working feverishly to ensure that turnout among Latino voters, African American voters, low-income voters, the elderly, and college voters is greatly reduced in this year’s general election. Because Florida is deemed a swing state by political reporters, it garners more attention than some of the other state actions. But Fla. Gov. Rick Scott has also helped attract attention with his staunch defense of the voter suppression tactics.

The DOJ and a string of civil rights groups, such as the Advancement Project, the Brennan Center for Justice, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the League of Women voters, and others, are fighting the purge and the state’s onerous new voter restrictions.  

Co-Director of the Advancement Project Judith Browne blasted Gov. Scott’s purge as a partisan effort to “suppress the vote.”

Ryan P. Haygood, director of the Political Participation Group at NAACP Legal Defense Fund, in a press statement about a lawsuit challenging changes to Florida’s voting laws, said his group is battling an attempt to “discourage political participation” especially of the state’s minority voters.

“Implementation of these additional discriminatory changes to Florida’s voting laws would be devastating for Black and other minority voters in the state,” Haygood said.

The groups’ efforts may irk the state’s right-wing politicians and their apologists in the media, but they are likely the only hope for salvaging the right to vote for scores of Latinos, African Americans, the elderly and many others.

The Brennan Center for Justice and the League of Women Voters, among other groups, have sued to scuttle portions of Florida’s new voter suppression law, such as the rigid requirements on voter registration drives and stringent requirements for voter identification. As noted here they have had some success with a federal judge blocking the provision against third-party voter registrations.

The DOJ has lodged a lawsuit to block Gov. Scott’s purge of voters. The Brennan Center’s Wendy Weiser lauded the action, saying the DOJ “is following it mandate under the law to protect voters’ rights. Florida’s purge, so close to election, and its defiance of federal voting rules and processes, opens the door to errors, confusion, and the removal of eligible voters.”

In a recent speech to the League of Women Voters’ convention, Attorney General Eric Holder praised the group for its tireless efforts “to educate, mobilize, and register voters ….”

He also said the group’s legal actions against Florida’s restrictions on voting “have been fueled by both growing concerns that essential voting rights could be limited because of recent state-level legislative actions; and by a deep commitment to upholding the values that have long distinguished our nation as a global leader and example, and that continue to define who we are as Americans.”

A new ACS Issue Brief by Loyola Law School concludes that Florida’s efforts are unnecessary – the claims of voter fraud are lame – and constitutionally suspect, and can only result in a depression of voter turnout.

[image via DOJ Photo Gallery]