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State asks feds to approve voting-law changes

Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Kurt Browning, has asked the Department of Justice to approve controversial changes to Florida voting laws. Browning's June 8 letter to the feds triggers a 60-day review process known as "pre-clearance" in five counties that cannot enforce the new law until the feds approve. Those counties are Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe.

"We seek your determination that [the law] does not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or language minority group," Browning wrote. Scott signed the law May 18 after it passed both houses of the Republican-dominated legislature on party-line votes.

The new law (HB 1355) is under assault in court by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups that allege the changes will disenfranchise voters in 2012 and are designed to depress Democratic turnout. The law makes it more difficult for voters to update their addresses at the polls, imposes new requirements on third-party groups that register new voters and reduces early voting days from 14 to eight, though the total aggregate hours of early voting (96) remains the same. 

The ACLU's Howard Simon calls Browning's request an apparent "effort to correct the mistake of a few weeks ago" when Browning initially ordered the law be implemented before pre-clearance took place.

-- Steve Bousquet