TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A lawyer for Gov. Rick Scott’s administration on Friday said Florida won’t stop using two conflicting election laws, depending on the county, even if opponents of the dual system win an administrative law challenge.
Two nonpartisan groups and a Democratic state senator contend the state violated rule-making requirements by directing local election officials in 62 counties to follow a new law even though the other five, all covered by the federal Voting Rights Act, have to adhere to an old one.
They also argue the dual system violates another state law requiring a uniform election system but acknowledged it’ll probably take further litigation to require that all 67 counties stick with the old law until a federal court in Washington, D.C., decides if the new statute complies with the Voting Rights Act.
“This would be the first step,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, after an administrative law hearing. “If we win here, in order to secure uniform elections in Florida we might have to go to another court.”
The case involves just two sections of a 2011 law signed by the Republican governor after being passed by the GOP-led Legislature. One reduces the number of early voting days from 15 to 10 and the other requires voters who change out-of-county addresses at the polls on Election Day to cast provisional ballots, which often don’t get counted.
Opponents say those provisions discriminate against minorities and young people who tend to vote Democratic. The Department of Justice has given pre-clearance, or approval, under the Voting Rights Act to 77 other sections of the new law.
The state has asked the Washington court rather than the Justice Department to review the remaining three sections including a provision putting new restrictions on voter registration drives. It’s been blocked by a federal judge in Tallahassee and is not an issue in the administrative case.
Administrative Law Judge Thomas Crapps said he would issue a ruling on Aug. 24.
The ACLU, National Council of La Raza and Tampa Sen. Arthenia Joyner contend the two-system directive last year by then-Secretary of State Kurt Browning should have gone through the state’s rule-making process, where it could have been challenged.
Daniel Nordby, a lawyer for Browning’s successor, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, argued the directive was not a rule but merely a statement of what’s already required by state and federal law.
“If the secretary of state were to be ordered to discontinue relying on a statement, that would have no effect on the conduct of supervisors of elections in the 62 counties,” Nordby said.
Both sides acknowledged the supervisors for years have questioned what authority, if any, secretaries of state have over them. The supervisors are independently elected constitutional officers in all except Miami-Dade County. The secretary of state is appointed by the governor.
Simon said Browning’s directive conflicts with the position of prior administrations that new election laws cannot go into effect anywhere in the state until they get Justice Department or court approval. The five counties covered by the Voting Rights Act due to past discrimination are Collier, Hillsborough, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe.
“What this demonstrates here is the governor’s contempt for the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Simon said.