Friday, October 28, 2011
Caught Between Election Reform and Early Primary
The State of Florida last spring enacted sweeping changes to its election laws, including provisions that tighten requirements on third party voter registration groups, reduce the number of early voting days from 14 to 8, and require voters who changed addresses to file a provisional ballot (instead of simply filing an affidavit), among others. (Floridaelectionlaw.com covered the changes here.) The arguments were familiar: The State said the changes would ensure election integrity; critics cried vote suppression.
But five counties in Florida are covered jurisdictions under the Voting Rights Act. The State must therefore get preclearance before it can enact the changes in those counties. (The changes can go into effect in the rest of the State.) Florida filed for preclearance with the Attorney General but later pulled four changes (including the three mentioned above) from the administrative process and sought preclearance for those four before a three-judge district court. The State then added a claim that the VRA preclearance provision is unconstitutional.
Most recently, Florida moved for an expedited schedule in an effort to get an opinion before its January 31 primary--which Florida pushed earlier. Not surprisingly, the court denied the motion, writing that it can't possibly turn the case around on Florida's tight timeline.
The court also noted that Judge Bates's ruling just last month in Shelby v. Holder, upholding the preclearance provision against a constitutional challenge, is now on appeal to the D.C. Circuit, with oral argument scheduled for January 19. The court said that any ruling on the constitutionality of the VRA here is best put off until the court gets word from the D.C. Circuit in Shelby.