Congressional investigation set into whether states enacted new laws to suppress voter turnout
Tampa chosen as site for the first U.S. Senate field hearing on Jan. 27 Critics contend laws could block ballots from five million seniors, young voters and minorities
December 12, 2011
TAMPA - Though it won’t be on the same scale as hosting the Super Bowl or an upcoming national political convention, Tampa is where a key congressional panel will hold its first field hearing on whether controversial new voting restrictions implemented this year in more than a dozen states resulted from an orchestrated effort to disenfranchise seniors, young voters and minorities.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Rights will hold the hearing on the new voting laws in Tampa next Jan. 27, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said today.
In October, Nelson asked for a congressional probe of controversial voting restrictions in Florida and other states. So far this year 14 states have implemented cut backs on voting either with legislation or via executive order. Nelson was informed late last week by the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), that the first field hearing on the cut backs would be held in Tampa.
Hillsborough County is one of five Florida counties where changes to state voting laws must be cleared by the Justice Department because of past racial conditions that could have undermined voting rights. And, Nelson said, “The community has many diverse groups of voters that might be affected the most under Florida’s new law, like seniors, young voters and minorities. One recent and credible study says new laws like Florida’s could suppress millions of votes nationwide in the 2012 election.”
Since its passage earlier this year, the law in Florida already has resulted in the nonpartisan Florida League of Women Voters abandoning its voter registration drive after 72 years. And two high school teachers have run afoul of the law after trying to preregister some of their students.
Among other changes, the law reduces the time for early voting in Florida from 14 days to eight and requires voters who want to give a new county address at the polls to use a type of ballot less likely to be counted. Seniors like early voting and college students change their addresses frequently. The law also requires those who sign up new voters to first register with the state and then submit all voter applications within 48 hours. It subjects people like the schoolteachers to hefty fines even for inadvertent mistakes.
There are numerous critics of the law, including the League of Women Voters, NAACP and the Hispanic advocacy group National Council of La Raza. They contend Florida’s new law and similar measures in a number of other states are designed to suppress the votes of people who tend to vote against the GOP – most notably seniors, young voters and minorities.
The hearing in Tampa is expected to seek testimony from state lawmakers who were behind the voting bill and Gov. Rick Scott who signed it into law. Others witness could include local supervisors of elections and representatives of voter advocacy groups.
News of Tampa as the location for the hearing comes as legal challenges are mounting to some of the new voting laws in a dozen states including Florida, and on the heels of the first major study of the issue. A study completed in October by The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that these new laws taken together could make it significantly harder for more than five-million eligible voters in numerous states to cast their ballots in 2012.