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Florida ACLU files suit challenging state election law changes

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [text, PDF; press release] on Friday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] challenging a new state voting law. The suit was filed by the ACLU in conjunction with the voter's rights group Project Vote [advocacy website], and it seeks to block implementation of HB 1355 [materials]. HB 1355 limits the window for early voting to one week prior to an election, down from the previously established two weeks, and imposes a series of additional regulations on organizations that enlist new voters, including requiring that they register with the state, submit periodic reports and file voter registration materials within 48 hours of completion. It also requires voters that have moved between any of the state's counties to use provisional ballots if they wish to update their information while at a polling location. The suit alleges that the Florida law violates the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) [text] because it failed to meet VRA requirement that a state law "seeking to administer or implement any voting qualifications or prerequisites to voting, or standards, practices, or procedures with respect to voting that are different from those that were in force or effect on November 1, 1972" submit the law for preclearance by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] before it can take effect. The suit requests that the implementation of HB 1355 be blocked if it is found the legislation "will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or membership in a language minority, [and] diminish the ability of minorities to elect their preferred candidates of choice." The ACLU is requesting that a three judge panel hear the suit.

The controversial Florida legislation was signed in to law in May by Governor Rick Scott (R) [official website] after the Florida legislature approved the bill [JURIST report] earlier in the month. Similar pieces of legislation have recently been challenged, with varying results. In May, the Georgia Supreme Court [official website] upheld [JURIST report] the state's 2006 Photo ID Act that requires voters to present one of six government-issued photo identifications in order to vote. The court ruled that the law "does not deprive any Georgia voter from casting a ballot in any election," and that presenting valid identification does not represent an unconstitutional impediment to voting. In contrast, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] in October struck down [JURIST report] a portion of an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. The court held that the law was inconsistent with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) [materials], which was passed with the intent of increasing voter registration and removing barriers to registration imposed by the states. The NVRA requires voters to attest to the validity of the information on their registration forms, including their citizenship, but does not require them to provide additional proof of citizenship. The law exceeded the federal statute, requiring applicants to show proof before registering to vote.

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