BREAKING NEWS: Gov. Rick Scott has signed a controversial voter bill that critics say will disenfranchise voters. The bill reduces the early voting period to 8 days from 14, bars people from changing their address at the polls, and imposes tough new rules on organizations that register people to vote. The news could cast doubt on the outcome of a lawsuit by a Miami-Dade Republican running for county mayor, who says the law if implemented now, could disenfranchise voters.
Michael Bender of the St. Pete Times reported Thursday at 2 p.m. that Scott had signed the bill. At that time, the outcome of the lawsuit by former State Rep. Marcelo Llorente was up in the air, as the judge awaited a set of precedents that Llorente’s lawyer said would prove their case.
Congressional Democrats have asked the Justice Department to review the law for potential violations of the Voting Rights Act.
Meanwhile, Peter Schorsch says: “bad idea, GOP.”
And the SP Times asks a very relevant question.
Well now this is interesting. A Republican bill that critics say is designed to depress Democratic voter turnout has just caught a case — from a Republican in Miami-Dade.
The complainant, former state representative Marcelo Llorente, is running fourth as a long-shot candidate for Miami-Dade mayor. His lawsuit contends that cutting the number of early voting days leading up to next Tuesday’s election is unfair, particularly since Gov. Rick Scott has yet to sign the voter bill, called HB 1355. From the Daily Business Review:
The lawsuit — prepared for Llorente by former Rep. J.C. Planas, R-Miami — contends that the county should not be allowed to follow a law that hasn’t yet been signed. Llorente, who shied away from criticizing the bill itself, said the change should not be imposed “at the 11th hour” now that early voting is already underway.
“This is a fight to ensure that the people of Miami-Dade have access to vote in the way that they had been promised,” Llorente said.
The battle stems from a provision in the law that cuts back on early voting, which would go from starting on the 15th day before the election and ending on the second day before the vote to beginning on 10th day prior to Election Day and ending on the third day before.
It was one of several provisions that sparked Democratic anger as majority Republicans pushed the bill through the Legislature. Opponents contended the measure was nothing more than an effort to discourage President Barack Obama’s electoral coalition from returning to the polls in 2012, while Republicans said the bill was needed to close potential avenues for fraud at the polls.
If enforced, the measure would carve Sunday voting out of the election. Voters who don’t vote early or by absentee are set to cast ballots in the special election on May 24.
But Llorente’s lawsuit — filed against Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Lester Sola, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, County Manager Alina Tejada Hudak and Secretary of State Kurt Browing — says the public notice sent by Miami elections officials on May 5 set early voting for May 9 through Sunday. After a bitter political fight, HB 1355 passed the Legislature the next day.
“Because the Governor had yet to sign HB 1355 on May 16, Defendants SOLA, HUDAK and the BCC violated [state law] by canceling early voting for Sunday, May 22, 2011 after the dates of early voting had been advertised and early voting had commenced.”
The many ironies of a Republican candidate crying foul over voter access aside, the Llorente suit illustrates in real time what the GOP voter bill could do to actual elections. Sundays have typically been a big voting day for churches and other groups that offer rides to the polls. In the case of seniors, for instance, the ability to vote after church, by getting a ride to the polls in the church van, has been a core organizing principle for Democrats, but also for evangelical Republicans, who also pursue active voter participation through their churches. HB 1355 could wind up hurting Republican candidates like Llorente, who are relying on strong early vote turnout to give them a chance on election day.
Scott, meanwhile, has been inundated with emails and phonecalls urging him to veto the bill, the Florida Congressional delegation has urged the Justice Department to review the law if it passes, and the League of Women Voters has already stated it will cease voter registration efforts in Florida if the bill becomes law. And there is some evidence that he may actually be wavering. From Naked Politics, here’s what Scott had to say about the bill at a hurricane conference in Broward on Tuesday:
“I’m reviewing the elections bill. I get I think it’s about 300 bills that I’m reviewing,” he said. “What I’ll be thinking about in reviewing that bill is one, I want people to vote, and of course it would be nice if they voted for me, but I want people to vote, but I also want to make sure there’s no fraud involved in elections.”
“All of us as individuals that vote want to make sure that our elections are fair and honest.”
When asked his thoughts about a letter written by Florida’s Democratic congressional delegation to the Department of Justice, saying that the bill violates the federal Voting Rights Act, Scott responded:
“I’m not going to sign a bill that I believe discourages people from voting. I want people to vote. I know what it’s like to run for office, and it’s important that people vote. We all took civics class in ninth grade and part of it is this is a great country. We get to vote and we get to take our positions and I want people to vote.”
Scott has until Saturday to act on the bill.
UPDATE: Local election officials in Destin hate the bill, too, saying it won’t solve “voter fraud” — because there hasn’t been any — and it will cost them more in time while saving no money. Story here.