Senator calls for feds to investigate state voting laws
November 3, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether new voting laws passed by Florida and more than a dozen other states this year are the result of a coordinated effort to suppress voter turnout among millions of seniors, young people and minorities in next year’s presidential election.
In general, most states outlaw attempts by anyone aimed directly or indirectly at deterring any person’s right to register to vote. Nelson’s request, in a letter today to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., asks the feds “to determine whether or not there was broad-based motivation to suppress the vote - and, if so, whether any laws were violated.”
The attorney general is already reviewing whether Florida’s new voting law violates people’s civil rights in a few select counties that were previously found to be out of compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act. But Nelson’s request is for a broader probe across state lines into any possible machinations leading to the various new limits on people’s access to the ballot box – all implemented this year in more than a dozen states.
Earlier this year, legislatures mostly in Republican-controlled states passed new laws that, among other things, shorten the hours for early voting in some states, make it harder for people with address changes to vote in some states, and make “third-party” voter registration drives more difficult in some states.
“These voting changes could make it significantly harder for an estimated five-million eligible voters in numerous states to cast their ballots in 2012,” Nelson wrote to Holder, citing the findings of the first comprehensive study of the voting laws’ impact by The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
In Florida, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, known in part for sponsoring high-profile candidate debates, abandoned its voter registration drive after 72 years citing the penalties for even unwitting mistakes or violations of the state’s new voting law.
Nelson also has asked a Senate panel to conduct a congressional investigation of the voting law changes. He’s awaiting an answer from the panel chairman, Sen. Richard Durbin.