The Democratic chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee said Thursday at a hearing about voter access that he has written to Florida Gov. Rick Scott to ask whether the state has plans to ensure voters won't be disenfranchised under new state laws.
The hearing -- entitled “New State Voting Laws: Barriers to the Ballot?” –- looked at laws that the chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said were part of "coordinated, well-funded effort" to suppress voting. Durbin, who largely panned new voting laws in some Republican-led states, said he'd sent letters to the governors of Wisconsin and Tennessee as well.
New voting laws signed in May by Scott curtail the number of early voting days from 15 to eight. The law also makes it more difficult for third-party groups, such as the League of Women voters, to register voters.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is up for re-election next year in the first major statewide test of the new voting laws, was sharply critical of the changes in Florida in his testimony at the hearing.
"It is simply not right when the laws are changed in a state to make it harder to vote," Nelson said. "That's what's happening in Florida, and of all places. You will recall the experience we went through in 2000. It was a painful experience, and because of that, the state legislature set about on as series of reforms. They made it easier to vote, they made to easier to register to vote and they made it easier that someone would have the confidence that their vote was going to be counted as they intended."
"That has suddenly been reversed in the state of Florida by the election law that has been passed and signed into the law by the governor," he said.
He was particularly critical of changes to early voting that no longer allow people to vote on the Sunday before elections –- a prime time for many African-American voters who would cast their ballots following church services.
"Does it cause anyone to suspicion that there are a certain number of voters on Sunday after church that go to vote? Again, cutting back on people's opportunity to express their will through a free and fair ballot access process."
Republicans on the committee had a different view.
"This is the future of the country, something we should embrace at the federal level," said the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose state was among those recently enacting tougher voter identification laws. "Democracy's a fragile thing, we all have to do our part….sanctifying the voting process in a way that make sense…is a goal we should all want to achieve."