Florida Department of State
Kurt S. Browning
Secretary of State
For Immediate Release
October 11, 2011
Secretary Browning Renews Request for Preclearance Ruling,
Amends Complaint to Challenge Constitutionality of Preclearance Coverage Formula
Florida’s preclearance obligation is based on 1972 data that doesn’t reflect current elections conditions
TALLAHASSEE – Secretary of State Kurt Browning today reiterated his desire for the federal court in Washington, D.C., to grant preclearance to the four remaining provisions of House Bill 1355, the 2011 changes to Florida’s elections laws. In addition, the Secretary filed an amended complaint challenging the constitutionality of the preclearance obligation placed on five Florida counties.
“I am hopeful the federal court will come to a quick resolution and approve the remaining provisions of our preclearance submission as nondiscriminatory,” said Secretary Browning. “However, I am frustrated that the reason we are still waiting to implement Florida law in five counties is because of an arbitrary and irrational coverage formula based on data from 40 years ago that takes no account of current conditions.”
Certain states and jurisdictions are subjected to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act based on a coverage formula found in Section (4)(b) of the Voting Rights Act. The inclusion of the states and jurisdictions requires them to suspend all changes to state election law, regardless of impact, until the changes have been precleared by federal authorities in Washington, D.C. Five Florida counties are covered jurisdictions.
Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe counties are subjected to the preclearance process because in November 1972, less than 50 percent of their voting-age citizens were registered to vote or voted in the presidential election, they had a non-English-speaking population of more than five percent, and they provided voting materials only in English, even though at the time voting materials were not required to be in a language other than English. Although the State of Florida is not a covered jurisdiction, all statewide changes to elections laws must be precleared before they can be enforced or administered by the covered counties. In 2006, the "temporary" coverage formula adopted in 1975 was extended for another 25 years without being updated to reflect current demographic and political conditions.
"The historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act are unquestionable," said Secretary Browning. "I strongly support the many provisions of the Voting Rights Act that appropriately enforce the right of citizens to register and vote free from discrimination. But there is no constitutional basis to arbitrarily single out five Florida counties and a few other covered jurisdictions, based solely on information from decades ago, and subject them to procedures that don’t apply to the rest of the country."
In early June, Secretary Browning submitted House Bill 1355 for preclearance on behalf of Florida’s five covered counties. The submission consisted of 80 sections and was initially sent to the United States Department of Justice for administrative preclearance. Secretary Browning later sent four provisions of the preclearance package to the federal district court for a judicial review. Since that time, the Department of Justice has precleared the remaining 76 sections. However, the DOJ has yet to respond to Secretary Browning’s lawsuit. The Department of State is seeking a court decision by the end of the calendar year.
The sections of House Bill 1355 that have been sent to the federal district court for approval include:
Section 4 – Relating to 3rd Party Voter Registration Organizations
- Section 4 requires third party voter registration organizations to submit completed voter registration applications to their county supervisors of elections office within 48 hours. Previously, such organizations were allowed 10 days. The change helps ensure the voter registration process is expedited in a reasonable amount of time for the benefit of the new voter and the voter registration organization.
Section 23 – Relating to Petition Signature Verification
- Section 23 requires supervisors of elections to notify the sponsor of a citizen initiative petition proposing constitutional amendments if their petition has been misfiled. It also requires each signer’s home address to be included in a submission, and provides that a signature is valid for two years rather than four years. The changes in this section will add accountability to citizen initiative petitions. They are also expected to help ensure petition signatures remain relevant to the time in which they were provided.
Section 26 – Relating to Out-of-County Address Changes at the Polling Place
- Section 26 requires voters who wish to change their address to a different county at the polling place on the day of an election to vote a provisional ballot. The measure is intended to combat voter fraud by preventing voters from casting a vote in multiple counties. In order to ensure all provisional ballots will be accurately counted, Secretary Browning issued a directive requiring provisional ballots be approved in all cases when the voter is registered and eligible to cast a ballot. House Bill 1355 also amended Florida law to allow voters to more easily change their address before casting a ballot. Voters can now change their address by calling, emailing or faxing the county supervisor of elections office.
Section 39 – Relating to Early Voting
- Section 39 increases the maximum number of early voting hours in a day from eight hours to 12 hours a day. The change is expected to benefit voters who wish to vote before or after traditional work hours. The maximum number of hours of early voting remains 96 hours. Therefore, early voting will be over the course of 8 days rather than 14 days. However, weekend voting will be increased to a maximum of 36 hours rather than the previous 16 allowable hours.
View the amended complaint.